Nashville Fairgrounds Track Still With A Shaky Future by Larry Woody, from Tennessean.com
Fans Can Give Their Suggestions... But Out Of State Might Not Count
Winning at Nashville's Music City Motorplex has always been something special. Just ask Nathan Haseleu and the rest of the drivers who now have a guitar. (51 photo)
(Editor's Note: The following articles were first published in the Tennessean newspaper by motorsports writer Larry Woody. Speed51.com has decided to post the stories to give Short Track fans an idea of what is happening with the track at the Nashville Fairgrounds and what they can do about it, if anything.)
On June 14, 1904, Nashville's first motorcar race was run at the Cumberland Park Driving Club on the site that later became the Tennessee State Fairgrounds.
Races have been held there since, but there's a chance that the century-plus run could end next year.
The Tennessee State Fair Board, which manages the Metro-owned 114-acre complex, is conducting a survey to help determine the Fairgrounds' future. Demolishing the racetrack and putting the site to a different use — possibly a baseball stadium or a Starwood-type concert venue — are possibilities.
"We want to make the best possible use of the property for the citizens and taxpayers," said Dave Jeter, executive director of the State Fair.
The Music City Motorplex's five-year contract expires Oct. 2, 2008 and lease holder Joe Mattioli is seeking a new, long-term extension.
"The place needs a lot of improvements and in order for us to make the investment, we need a long-term lease," Motorplex General Manager Norm Partin said.
Partin, who wants a 10- to 20-year lease, sees several reasons to save the track.
"It has a great economic impact on the city," he said. "We bring in a lot of out-of-town race teams and fans in addition to the revenue generated by our weekly races and special events like DukesFest.
"Also, there's the historic value. No racetrack in the country has a richer history than ours and it's something that deserves to be preserved. Auto racing has been part of Nashville's culture for over a hundred years."
Partin, whose promotions have drawn larger crowds this season, encourages race fans to express their support to the Fair Board.
An independent consultant the Fair Board plans to hire later this year will submit a report by Jan. 1. The Fair Board will then make its recommendation to Metro on the future of the facility. Jeter said the only definite thing about the Fairgrounds future is that the annual State Fair will be held there.
"Anything else ... done with the facility has to be worked around that," he said.
The State Fair Board is receiving a wide range of suggestions about what to do with the Metro-owned Fairgrounds property, and the fate of the facility's 50-year-old racetrack might hang in the balance.
Some want to keep racing and others want it ended and the facility used for other purposes.
Jeter is soliciting comments and suggestions from the public and will turn them over to an independent consultant. Jeter said he doesn't know what, if any, weight the recommendations will carry.
"We're just looking for input and ideas," he said.
The deadline for submitting suggestions is Friday. Right now, keeping the racetrack leads all proposals with 215, but Jeter said not all of them count.
"One hundred and thirty-eight came from out-of-state, and they don't have a dog in this fight," he said. "We want to get suggestions from Metro citizens because they're who owns the property."
Jeter said that leaves 77 in-state proposals to keep the track "and 59 to do away with racing for a variety of reasons. Some don't like the noise; some say it would better to have the races at the Superspeedway; and some don't give a reason."
Just after the new 5/8-mile track opened, it was home to several NASCAR Winston Cup races. (Tennessean photos)
Other proposals for the 114-acre site include parks/green space, amphitheater, amusement park, farmer's market, baseball stadium and art center.
Jeter said the Fairgrounds' five business areas are the annual Tennessee State Fair (which has to be preserved under a city charter), concessions, building rentals, flea market and racetrack.
He said the Music City Motorplex "is the least-productive of all our activities."
Track General Manager Norm Partin said attendance is up this season and the future brighter for local racing.
Partin said the track has a positive economic impact on the city because it draws
out-of-town race teams and fans. He also said that auto racing has been held on the site for more than a hundred years and is a part of Nashville's culture, which should be preserved.
Jeter said Metro in the past has been reluctant to grant long-term leases. Partin said that policy "is one reason why the track got in the condition it's in. Past lease holders couldn't afford big investments in improvements because of the short terms."
Needed improvements include new restrooms and concession stands, upgraded water/sewer systems and better lighting and sound systems, Partin said.
It has been suggested the Fairgrounds would be a good site for a new Sounds baseball stadium since the original proposed downtown site is apparently off the table.
Jeter said the Fairgrounds "can park 7,000 cars, which would handle any Sounds game." He said he has not been contacted by any representative of the Sounds.
He said the Fair Board "will keep an open mind" as the situation evolves.
"We haven't ruled anything in or out," he said. "Our position is simple: we want what's best for the city and the taxpayers. Our job in the next several months will be to try to determine what that is."
How important is Nashville's short track? Just ask last year's All American 400 winner, Boris Jurkovic. (51 photo)