The website for Nashville's Fairgrounds Speedway boasts of “51 Years of Racing”, but the chances of that number reaching 52 appear are up in the air for the track that has also been called Nashville Speedway and Music City Motorplex. This story has been developing for the past few months, but took on new meaning this week after the outright cancellation of the All-American 400 weekend.
The All-American 400, one of the most historic short track races in the country, was scheduled to take place last weekend. On Wednesday, the event - which was to include the CRA Super Series Super Late Models and the Georgia Asphalt Series Pro Late Models - was cancelled due to concerns about the weekend's weather. The race was rescheduled for November 20th-22nd. That date though was cancelled outright on Tuesday afternoon.
The decision to cancel the race is the latest chapter in a story of local politics and economic issues that could end with the track being closed for good. Whether that has already happened, will happen next year or maybe not even at all remains to be seen.
Earlier this year, the Mayor of Nashville announced that the Fairgrounds board has decided to close down the Fairgrounds property where the racetrack sits, effective nxt June,, and explore the sale of the property to developers. The 120-acre property could be part of a urban renewal project for the area around the Fairgrounds, which is located in the south part of Nashville. The area is currently economically depressed, so new development would likely be welcomed by area residents.
Since the June closure date falls in the middle of a traditional racing season, conventional wisdom would say that it is unlikely that the track would operate next season under those conditions.
And it played a role in track officials calling off the All-American 400 this year as well. Since the race was not a leased event, but one that the track was putting on, the sanctioning bodies who were to race during the All-American 400 weekend, the CRA Super Series and Georgia Asphalt Series had to abide by the track's decision to call off the race.
“The guy who writes the checks gets to make the decisions,” said CRA's R.J. Scott. “As a series, we wanted to race [on November 20th-22nd], but we don't run the racetrack. From the promoter's perspective, it's hard to make a major investment in a show [like the All-American 400] when you don't know what the future holds. The promoter had a lot of question marks in his mind about this race. He was fearful of the weather and the crowd.”
Scott admits that the CRA had concerns about the make-up date, but that they also saw some positives with the late November date as well.
“We are a sanctioning body and we'll race when there is a date for us. If we had a choice, we might have not picked that date, because we didn't want to go up against the Governor's Cup [at New Smyrna Speedway] and the final Snowball Derby [open] practice date, but it was what he needed to do and we were going to make it work. We lost a few cars to other events, but we also picked up three or four new entries already as well for the rescheduled race.”
The All-American 400 could still happen as a Spring, 2010 event at the track as well.
“Everyone wants to do an All-American 400 that is a swan song,” said Scott. “That way, someone can go into it and say that they are going to win the final one. We want to do a 400 weekend and do it right and we are all considering doing it next year.”
There is a possibility that even with the June, 2010 date to close down the Fairgrounds, a full season of racing could still take place. After all, even if the track is sold to developers immediately, the wrecking balls and excavators wouldn't roll in right away.
The track also has some high profile friends in its corner. Speed51.com has learned that former NASCAR Cup Series star Sterling Marlin, who is from Nashville and raced a Late Model at the track this year, along with NASCAR Nationwide Series team owner Gary Baker, who also operated the track from 1979-1987, will be meeting with Nashville Mayor Karl dean next week in an effort to keep the track open.
But that might not be an easy case to make as some figures in the city government already think that the future of the track is sealed.
"There really has been a declining use there. They are kind of behind in the rent to be honest right now. I'm not sure the speedway is a viable entity," Nashville Metro Finance Director Rich Riebeling told NewsChannel.com earlier last month.
Attempts to reach track officials for comment by Speed51.com were unsuccessful. An e-mail to the track received a response that the track offices will be closed until further notice.
The politics around the Fairgrounds could shut down more than short track racing. The Nashville Rollergirls, TNA Wrestling events, craft fairs and many other events call the Fairgrounds home each year.
But it's the loss of racing at the Fairgrounds which has saddened many short track racers throughout the county - including a few who were planning on competing in the All-American 400.
"We have known for a couple or three years that things were not great at Nashville," said Eddie Hoffman. "That's why we always go there and try to run both races if we can because you never know when the last race is going to be. The track is a lot of fun to race on, and we had the good setup there for a while and we got a few trophies to show for it."
“I had heard some rumors,” said Georgia's Bubba Pollard, who would have been an AA 400 Rookie. “We were [still] looking forward to going and running the All American 400. We have wanted to do it for a number of years. There always seems to be little problems that come up. We had planned on going all season, we had a lot of success, and we were looking forward to going and running with that field of Super Late Models. We have never had a chance to get up there; we have always had to get cars ready for the [Snowball] Derby.
“It stinks because we were making plans to take off work, not just me but my crew guys and it stinks when things like this happen. There are not many good racetracks left in our region, hopefully they can pull through this so we can race some there next year.
“I had heard that the issues are track related. I think they have been having some problems with the noise ordinance in the past and it was continuing this year.”
Kentucky driver Chuck Barnes, Jr. was another driver planning on being at Fairgrounds Speedway later this
“I was really excited about driving for the Drawdy family at Nashville,” said Barnes. “We were all disappointed when the weather canceled the whole weekend and now we don't even get to race at all that stinks. I have not heard any reasons. I figure that track is closing or something.
The track has a special spot in Barnes' heart - it was the site of one of his biggest career victories.
“At that time it was the highlight of my racing career,” said Barnes about winning the 2004 All American 400. “We were big underdogs and we sat on the pole with a record time was really cool. We over came some stuff in the race to work our way back into the lead and we ended up winning. It was an awesome feeling.
“It would really suck if Nashville never got to host another race. It's close to home for us and it would really hurt. It's a track that fits my driving style and it's full of history it would be really disappointing, but there is nothing we can do about it now.”
Even drivers who weren't entered in the All-American 400 and feeling the pain of watching the situation unfold at Fairgrounds Speedway.
“We weren't going to race in the All-American 400 because right now, we are focusing on our ASA Late Model deal,” said Josh Hamner. “The last time that I raced there, we finished second there and had a good run. I've been there as a crew member and a driver and that place just has a ton of history. It is really sad to see places like Nashville, The Milwaukee Mile, Memphis and Birmingham close down. People forget what made this sport the way that it is today and that is very sad to see. So hopefully something will happen where something can come together for next year.”
"That's a shame that they canceled the All American 400.," said Brian Campbell, who won one of the events during last year's All-American 400 weekend. "They have been trying to get that track to close down for a number of years and they might have finally gotten there wish."
"I am just glad we got to win a race down there and strum on the guitar. I told my car owner there are like four trophy I get to keep when I win a race and the Nashville trophy was one of them."
The track also holds a special place in the heart of Andy Seuss, who finished second in the 2009 NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour point standings and won his first career WSMT event at the Nashville track back in 2007.
“That would be a shame if the track is closed for good,” said Seuss. “I loved going there and it is a great racetrack. It's too bad that even the NASCAR Truck Series doesn't go there because I'd love to see more short track racing. I'm glad to be able to have raced there though and it is neat to be in the record book as he only Modified winner ever at the track. The guitar that I got for winning there is my favorite trophy and I'll never part with it.”
Speed51.com will have more on the Fairgrounds Speedway story, including more news on how the race cancellation will effect the Georgia Asphalt Series, coming soon.