The Fight For The Fairgrounds

By Brody Jones

Auto racing has long been an institution at the Nashville Fairgrounds, ever since 1904. For 107 years, the motors have roared around the 5/8 mile bull-ring with local legends such as Bob Reuther, Coo Coo Marlin, Flookie Buford, Darrell Waltrip, Sterling Marlin, the late Bobby Hamilton Sr., his son Bobby Jr., Willie Allen, and so many others cut their teeth worshipping at this altar of speed. But now, due to some over-zealous city officials, namely Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, the track could very well be razed for a public park, destroying a Nashville, let alone stock-car racing landmark. It’s almost akin to someone melting the Liberty Bell for their own private profit. But for current track operator Tony Formosa, Sterling Marlin, Darrell Waltrip, and city councilman Duane Domini, they refuse to give up the fight to save the track and are fighting to the bitter end.
To give some history on the track for the uninitiated, the track hosted NASCAR Grand National/Winston Cup races from 1958 to 1984 when the track owner, at that time, Warner W. Hodgdon, had to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Along with the facilities not being up to NASCAR standards, the track lost their Cup dates. The facility ran Busch Series and Truck events up until 2000, when the Nashville Superspeedway opened in Lebanon in the hopes of bringing Cup racing back to the Nashville metropolitan area. In the early plans for the 1.33 mile facility in Wilson County, plans for a dirt track, a drag strip, and a paved short-track were in the works. But as plans will be, plans will often go awry, and when the Dover Motorsports staff did not live up to their end of the bargain, that left the future of the Fairgrounds in doubt. While the track ran local-level races, shady financial operations and deteriorating facilities further clouded the future of the track, leading Nashville Mayor Karl Dean to spear-head the effort to raze the Fairgrounds and the track, essentially telling Nashvillians that have long-supported their auto racing that they don’t matter.
The great irony in all of this is the track built ideally to phase out the Fairgrounds in Nashville Superspeedway faces an uncertain future. Sure, the track currently has two dates in the Nationwide and Truck Series, but their sparse crowd attendance is more reminiscent of a bomb scare and leaves the long-term solvency of the track in doubt. On the other hand, while the Fairgrounds only ran about a half-dozen races in 2010, they averaged in the neighborhood of 7,000 paying customers. Plus another problem for the Wilson County facility is, most years, the racing there has been typical of your stereotypical “cookie-cutter” track, devoid of personality, excitement, and close-quarters action. The Fairgrounds still represents these things and this is a big reason why Darrell Waltrip and Sterling Marlin, whose children Steadman and Sutherlin have raced at the facility, have helped step up to the plate to save the very track they cut their teeth on. Longtime Fairgrounds fans probably remember Darrell Waltrip frequently calling Flookie Buford a “back-hoe operator”, but things like that are part of the aura that draws fans to the track, even today.
Armed with the 40,000 signatures of people supporting the speedway, the fate of the track now hangs in the balance of a public vote on Monday night. But this is no longer about saving just another track. No, it’s much more than that. If the vote goes against track, an important part of NASCAR history falls to the mercy of bull-dozers and land-developers and another crushing blow is dealt to the future of short-track racing. But, on the other hand, if the vote saves the track, then a crucial piece of short-track history is saved and Nashville’s proud racing history is preserved. The key components to long-term success are there. Rich history, a loyal throng of NASCAR fans, and being in a major media market, which we all know is what drives NASCAR executives in booking race dates, namely the France family. All these factors would mean that racing will be here to stay in Nashville and keeping the heritage of speed in the Music City alive.
So in just a few days, the fate of not just a short track, but a historical NASCAR landmark, lies in the balance. So if you live in the Nashville area and you do not want to see the Fairgrounds Speedway destroyed by land-developers, I implore and encourage you to make your voice heard by voting to save the track. Every vote counts and if you want to save the speedway, those voices need to ring united, loud and clear, as a stand against Nashville Mayor Karl Dean’s nefarious plan to desecrate NASCAR history. NASCAR and Nashville have been a happy marriage for years and go together like peanut butter and jelly, milk and cookies, along with ice cream and birthday cake. So don’t let NASCAR leave Nashville because Nashville without racing is like a world without sunshine.