Many are hoping and even anticipating that the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series schedule will feature more races at short tracks, and there seems to be just as much hope around the idea that Nashville's half-mile Fairgrounds Speedway can be among the facilities included.
So Wednesday's announcement that the Nashville market is indeed getting a NASCAR Cup Series race in 2021, at Nashville Superspeedway rather than Fairgrounds Speedway, is a bit of a buzzkill. According to reports, the race is tentatively scheduled for late June of next year.
The good news for those who want to see the smaller Nashville track back on the Cup schedule, as Autoweek reports, is that NASCAR's return to the market's 1.33-mile oval could positively impact Speedway Motorsports' efforts to get Fairgrounds Speedway a Cup Series date in the future.
"Dover is giving up a date at the request of Speedway Motorsports in the hopes of convincing Tennessee Governor Bill Lee to approve the legislation of a ticket tax to cover the costs of renovating the Fairgrounds Speedway," Autoweek's Matt Weaver reported.
Nashville Superspeedway, a concrete oval that was built in 2001 and hosted NASCAR and IndyCar races through 2011 but never a Cup Series race, indeed is owned by Dover Motorsports Inc. Dover International Speedway in Dover, Del., was in danger of losing one of its two annual Cup Series races, anyway, so the company preemptively allowing one of those dates to be moved to Nashville makes sense.
Though it hasn't hosted a NASCAR race in almost a decade, Nashville Superspeedway is in good shape. It just needs "a modern makeover (that) would cost at least $8 million to $10 million," according to The Associated Press.
4-yr deal for Cup races at Nashville Superspeedway. Total purse and sanction fees: 2021 – $8.6M, 2022 – $9.0M, 2023 – $9.4M and 2024 – $9.9M. Estimated live broadcast revenue: 2021 – $18.2M, 2022 – $18.9M, 2023 – $19.9M and 2024 – $20.8M. #nascar
— Bob Pockrass (@bobpockrass) June 3, 2020
“The thought at the time 20-something years ago was that if NASCAR was going to have an expansion, which at the time was the right time to be thinking, we wanted to claim those markets,” Dover CEO Mike Tatoian told the AP regarding the initial investment in the superspeedway. “It didn’t happen. It just never lended itself to move one of our races at that time. So in 2011, after 10 or 11 years of operating, we decided it was time to shutter the operation.
"But we held onto it, fortuitously, just in case there was ever an opportunity in the future to do what we’re doing now."
Now that the opportunity is here, though, many are digesting news of this reported schedule change the same way: Not another intermediate oval. Cup Series driver Chase Elliott went as far as saying "one snooze fest at that joint will put the nail in the coffin of the fairgrounds."
One snooze fest at that joint will put the nail in the coffin of the fairgrounds, bummer. https://t.co/QMvDFt1tn0
— Chase Elliott (@chaseelliott) June 3, 2020
The idea is that races at Fairgrounds Speedway, located just outside downtown Nashville, will produce more of the exciting brand of short-track racing typically seen at Bristol Motor Speedway and Martinsville Speedway as opposed to the more common brand seen at 1.5-mile tracks in Charlotte and Texas, to name a couple. The Cup Series previously raced at Fairgrounds Speedway from 1958 to 1984.
The problem, per Autoweek's report, is a local political conflict regarding the downtown Nashville site: "The goal is to have both the speedway and (a new MLS stadium) share the same space, but it’s a tight fit, and there are lobbyists on both sides who would rather see just one or the other take the entirety of the space. That doesn’t even include the lobbying for the annual state fair and monthly flea markets."
Said Speedway Motorsports’ president and CEO Marcus Smith: "Our efforts to work with state and local government officials to revive the historic Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway will continue. We believe that the beloved short track in downtown Nashville provides tremendous opportunity to be a catalyst for year-round tourism and entertainment development.”
So perhaps next year's Cup Series race at the bigger Nashville track, technically a 40-minute drive from downtown in nearby Lebanon, will convince officials the renovation and reboot of Fairgrounds Speedway is the right play.
If not, yet another revered short track could become a parking lot.