The historic Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway could return to NASCAR competition for the first time since 2000 after it signed a deal with Bristol’s track operator and its owner Speedway Motorsports.
The Fairgrounds Speedway last hosted a NASCAR-sanctioned race in 2000 when the Truck series competed at the track, although it has hosted ARCA races (picture above courtesy of ARCA), and the venue played an important role in NASCAR’s early history.
The timing of its potential return comes at a time when NASCAR president Steve Phelps admitted fans wanted “less cookie-cutter tracks” and more short tracks such as Nashville’s half-mile circuit.
While NASCAR cannot make immediate changes such as adding new tracks to the calendar due to long-term contracts signed with SMI and the International Speedway Corporation that expire in 2020, there has been pressure for a radical shake-up at the end of those deals.
The Fairgrounds Speedway has now agreed a partnership with Bristol, which will lead to multi-million dollar investment to improve the circuit to NASCAR standards just seven years after it was almost demolished.
Formosa Productions boss Tony Formosa, who oversees the Fairground Speedway’s operations, said: “This is terrific news for fans of racing and drivers all across the country and will bring a brighter future for Nashville Fairgrounds.
“I’m excited to work with Bruton and Marcus Smith and the Bristol team who I feel will bring this historic facility back to where it belongs.
“Today marks an exciting new beginning for the Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville.”
The circuit was a key part of the rise of the ‘Alabama gang’ that included talents such as Bobby Allison and Red Farmer and a firm favourite among drivers during its long period on the Cup calendar.
After NASCAR became embroiled in a dispute with the local government in 1984 that led to Fairgrounds’ removal from the calendar, stars such as Dale Earnhardt and Darrell Waltrip still raced there around their main campaigns during a successful era of track-specific championships.
Waltrip told local paper the Tenessean that a return to Fairgrounds Speedway was “a win-win for everybody: the fans, the track, the Formosas and for Marcus and SMI.
“I believe with the help of SMI the track can return to its glory days. I couldn’t be more pleased and excited for the future of the track.”
Current stars such as Kurt Busch have recently called for NASCAR to return to its roots, with Nashville falling into that category and seen as a link to its early days.
If Fairgrounds Speedway makes a NASCAR return, it is expected to initially host Xfinity and Trucks series races rather than rejoining the Cup calendar.
The city of Nashville has been undergoing a resurgence with its commitment to local sport, with its government approving a $275million stadium for a Major League Soccer franchise that is expected to begin play in 2020 right next to the circuit.
Nashville Mayor David Briley has been supportive of the NASCAR project and the Metro fair board – which oversees proceedings – next meets on January 8, when it will likely consider concerns such as the size of Fairgrounds’ racing calendar and the noise impact on local residents.