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Nashville: Once so magical...

  That victory guitar. Will Kyle Busch get another one to smash this time around? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   That used to be such a magic town, such a magical stop for NASCAR teams…..
   What's happened?
   And what's happening?
   That's an apropos question this weekend.
   It's a strange story, Nashville, this weekend's stop on the never-ending stock car tour, albeit for a Saturday afternoon Nationwide event rather than a Sunday Sprint Cup event.
   Not because of anything particular on tap in the Friday night Truck 200 (8 p.m. EDT) or Saturday Nationwide 300 (4 p.m. EDT) races at the track, which is some 30 miles east of Nashville.
   In fact, if you're looking for an interesting call in Saturday's feature, keep an eye on Paul Menard, whose Cup ventures this season, under new crew chief Slugger Labbe, have been eye-opening, after a few years of playing in the shadows of the sport.
   Yes, Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch will be at the mile-and-a-quarter-mile concrete track, instead of vacationing out in the Bahamas or wherever Cup drivers go on those few off-weekends. And Brad Keselowski will be there too, to liven things up with his own brand of hard driving. And more Cup drivers too, like Kevin Harvick (his first Nashville run since 2006) and Joey Logano.

  The vintage Fairgrounds Speedway, now just NASCAR history (Photo: Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway)

   The city of Nashville used to be some heartland NASCAR, home to two Cup tour stops, in the spring, and again at night deep in the summer.
   And that old Nashville Fairgrounds track was one of the most picturesque on the stock car trail, with its neon Ferris wheel and thrill rides just outside the fourth turn…And it's zany pit road – a tiny oval within the big oval, which was so odd (a car had to pass the start finish line before getting on to pit road, and then cross the start finish line again when exiting the pits) that scoring miscues were frequent, and led to incidents like the night Bobby Allison and Cale Yarborough both wound up in victory lane, almost duking it out for the trophy.
    Nashville….where Coo Coo Marlin and Sterling Marlin and Bobby Hamilton grew to prominence….and of course Darrell Waltrip.
    The old Nashville Fairgrounds track had such panache, such history, such a legacy. And the new track, well, it just seems like another track out in the countryside, Anywhere USA.
    Maybe NASCAR simply outgrew the Fairgrounds. Or maybe it just thought it had outgrown the Fairgrounds. Maybe this is one more example of something NASCAR itself has lost along the way. Maybe Nashville city officials should have been more on the ball back when….after all Nashville, with 1.5 million people, is the largest metropolitan area in the state.
    The garage area at the Fairgrounds track was curious itself, down in a valley between the first and second turns. Once Yarborough got crossed up on the frontstretch and bounced over the inside wall and sailed out of sight down into the garage area hole, during a night race.

   The new Nashville Superspeedway is spiffy and all that, but it just doesn't have the legacy of the old Fairgrounds track (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


And Nashville the city is, of course, quite a stop in itself, with country music synergies that NASCAR milked well.  The track fit right into its billing as 'the Ryman of racing.'
    But then in the mid-1980s then-track owner Warner Hodgdon, the West Coast financier who was making such a big splash in NASCAR (buying into Junior Johnson's team and pairing Neil Bonnett with Darrell Waltrip in one of the sport's then-novel two-car operations), ran into some financial problems and, well, to make a long story short, NASCAR's Bill France decided to pull the plug on the entire franchise.
    That Fairgrounds track, which first Cup races in 1958, was suddenly missing from the 1985 Winston Cup tour. (Some may remember when that old Nashville track was banked an incredible 35 degrees.)
   Yes, the old Nashville Fairgrounds stop was once one of the sport's more amazing stops.
   That it was just a couple hours up the road from Talladega Superspeedway may have led Daytona executives to worry about competition for fans (though the half-mile action was quite in contrast to Talladega's 200-mph games).
   Or maybe it was just the small grandstands, seating only some 20,000, and the awkward location in the middle of town….
    But, whatever the reason, NASCAR pulled up the Cup tour and left.
    Then in 2001 a new track was built, perhaps too far out of town to keep any of the real Nashville ambience. And the new track, owned by Dover Motorsports Inc (NYSE: DVD), has become the area's new NASCAR tour stop.

   NASCAR and Dover promote a January sound-and-light show, to promote its Nashville connection, like with Saturday race favorite Carl Edwards here. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

Of course Dover Motorsports itself is a curious story. In a sports world dominated by track-owner giants Bruton Smith and the France family, Dover is one of stock car racing's very few remaining independent operations (along with Pocono and Indianapolis).
    Yes, it's two Cup weekends at the home track in Delaware is typically a 100,000-fan sellout, and a key part of this sport's marketing efforts in the Washington-Baltimore-Philadelphia-New York area. New York City, for example, is only 2-1/2 hours away. And while NASCAR execs might be willing to let Dover move one of those Delaware Cup weekends to the Nashville track, Dover executives don't appear very interested in giving up the two dates at their home track, probably because the race crowd helps pump up the casino business there.
    The track holding company (which apparently is majority controlled by Texas businessman Henry Tippie) also owns and operates tracks in St. Louis and Memphis. However the company has been trying to sell the Memphis facility, which it closed last fall; it was trying to sell Memphis to Gulf Coast Entertainment, a company that has been pairing music with race tracks, and which owns the proposed Alabama Motorsports Park (which once had a partnership deal with Dale Earnhardt Jr.). And there have been some questions raised lately about the St. Louis track.

  Maybe it's time to add Paul Menard to the list of 'usual suspects.' Can he win Nashville? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   Most of the action here though has been deep behind the scenes.
   Out front, this weekend it's all about the racing. And probably Kyle Busch, who made such controversy last season with his Peter Townsend guitar-smashing routine after winning.
   Or maybe another round of Edwards-vs-Keselowski….or maybe a Menard surprise.
   And just what kind of crowd to expect?
   Bristol Motor Speedway managed 125,000 or so a few weeks ago, a very decent crowd by any estimate, although with 160,000 seats it looked more empty than usual.
   Nashville Superspeedway, who can hold about 50,000, has a number of promotions this weekend, including a Saturday Easter Egg hunt at the track, a Lifetime TV 'Army Wives' program, with Brigid Brannagh and Wendy Davis, and a post-race concert by Steel Magnolia.
   Still, it just seems like this track really ought to be somewhere in the heart of Nashville itself…..
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  Sam Bass (R), who made the trophy, took the smashing all in good fun (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


NASCAR Ultimately Outgrew The Fairgrounds

I agree the old Fairgrounds was a good racetrack and had some strikingly memorable events when it was revived in the mid-1990s for major touring series.

But ultimately NASCAR's major touring series outgrew the old Fairgrounds the way they've outgrown the short tracks and tracks like Rockingham in general.

The Nashville Superspeedway is spiffy indeed, but is too small by over a full mile, and has the wrong surface - concrete is okay for some portions of corner but not for the entire surface. It took twelve years before Dover developed raceable grooves for concrete and Bristol needed to redo the corners before it became raceable again with concrete.

Nashville needs to rebuild into a 2.5-mile superoval.

LOL: you think the Frances

LOL: you think the Frances would put on a Cup race at a Daytona-Talladega-style track only three hours up the road? Now maybe Bruton could bring back those 36-degree banks at Nashville, and lay some asphalt.....you think the new asphalt compounds might hold up better than the stuff they used when Bristol was tearing up?

Mike, The forces that the


The forces that the cars exude in corners banked that much just don't bode well for asphalt. It works at Daytona and Talladega because the cars are not on and off the gas in the corners like they are at the shorter tracks, and the turns are not as sharp because of the length of the track. Were you at any of the races at Bristol or Dover when the asphalt started coming apart? If there is an asphalt that can hold together under the kind of strain produced at Bristol and Dover, I haven't seen it yet and I'm in the highway construction business. There are some super tacky binding liquids for the asphalt, but I don't know that they would even hold up. Concrete works best as far as structural integrity goes because there are far less voids and it's bonded together tighter. It takes a year or two to get the rubber worked in and the grooves for racing made, but it lasts so much longer and produces very few problems.

Yes To Both

If they had a real racetrack in the Nashville area I doubt the Frances would object to having one or two Winston Cup races there a year - Nashville is for all practical purposes the one "major" city that embraces racing without hesitation. And yes I absolutely think they can use new asphalt compounds to hold up better than concrete and provide better racing grooves as a result.

Do you even like short-track

Do you even like short-track racing, STP? All of your comments about tracks always seem to reference building superspeedways everywhere, even if the track is fine. 2 restrictor-plate tracks is a plenty. I want to see a .75 mile Bristol/Dover track with some progressive banking. We have enough 1.5 and 1 mile tracks. I want a "bigger" short track the length of Richmond that will produce some great racing.

Fairgrounds Track Ain't Dead Yet

It may be on life support, but there will be racing again this year at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway, including the legendary super late model All-American 400. I would love to see Bruton buy this track and refurbish it to modern standards (pits, stands, garage, etc.) like the Richmond owners did with their track some 22 years ago, but leave the track itself alone. I would like to see the Cup cars on this track again. It's a dream of course, but its one of the best short tracks in America. There are 3-4 lines to run, which on a 0.6 mile track is really nice. The trucks and Nationwide series put on good shows there in the late 90's, but the pit situation and the limited capacity made NASCAR unhappy and the races left. Here's hoping someone with some big pockets can breathe some life into that place to get big time racing back there.


Yes! Sounds a plan to

Yes! Sounds a plan to me......solid market, good town....if Bristol can work, so can Nashville...


The Nashville Superspeedway is spiffy indeed, but is too small by over a full mile, and has the wrong surface - concrete is okay for some portions of corner but not for the entire surface. It took twelve years before Dover developed raceable grooves for concrete and Bristol needed to redo the corners before it became raceable again with concrete heating parts

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