Nashville, Bristol Motor Speedway to Explore Potential Agreement

ISC Archives/CQ-Roll Call Group

Metro Nashville is in talks with Bristol Motor Speedway to bring NASCAR televised racing to an improved, historic Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway. Such racing could take place as soon as 2022.

A successful agreement would preserve and upgrade Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway as one of Nashville’s unique entertainment assets. Such an agreement would also turn the track into a significant money-making operation for the Fairgrounds.

The Speedway is the second-oldest operating motor speedway in the United States, dating back to 1904. It has a storied connection with racing, including being a showcase for legendary drivers such as Dale Earnhardt, members of the Petty family and our own Darrell Waltrip. 

Discussions between parties will include:

1)    management of the track to be potentially taken over by Bristol Motor Speedway;

2)    shifting financial responsibility for track renovation and maintenance to Bristol Motor Speedway; and

3)    generation of additional revenue to the city through lease, rent and shared-event-revenue agreements. 

The city’s goal is for the additional Speedway revenue to cover the capital cost of needed track repairs and upgrades, as well as to fund adjacent community and park improvements.

“The racetrack can stop being a financial drain on taxpayers. Instead, it can generate positive cash flow and help fund community improvements at the racetrack, at the Fairgrounds and at Fair Park. This historic site can be a great, long-term asset for the community and the city,” Mayor John Cooper said.

The Mayor noted that “Bristol Motor Speedway, with their experience, is an ideal partner to help achieve those goals.”

A potential agreement envisions the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway attracting NASCAR-level racing events and continuing local racing, as well as attracting certain non-racing events, such as auto shows, live music, bicycle races and corporate functions. Community organizations would also have opportunities to use the renovated, multi-purpose facility.

In 2011, Nashville voters overwhelmingly mandated, through an amendment to the Metro Charter, the continuation of all existing uses of the Fairgrounds facilities, including the famed racetrack. Since that time, a series of contracted track operators have run local racing programs. Little or no investment has been made to the Speedway during the past decade.

“We have an obligation to maintain the track, so it’s smart for Nashville to engage a strong, long-term partner from the auto racing industry to operate it successfully,” Mayor Cooper said. “Modernizing the Speedway brings the track back to its historic prominence. It also brings us another step closer to a Nashville that values its unique assets and uses those assets to build a greater city.”

“Bristol Motor Speedway and Speedway Motorsports are thrilled to take this step forward with Mayor Cooper, the Fair Board, Metro Council and the neighborhood stakeholders,” said Marcus Smith, president and chief executive officer of Speedway Motorsports and Bristol Motor Speedway. “We can work together to transform Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway into an amazing multipurpose entertainment destination. We’re ready to roll up our sleeves and go to work to fully restore the speedway, recruit national events and breathe new life into a venue that has a legendary status in auto racing history.”

Early priorities include community engagement with neighbors surrounding the Fairgrounds, District 17 Metro Councilmember Colby Sledge and the Fair Board.

Proposed improvements include noise mitigation, safety upgrades, more seating and the addition of auxiliary facilities. 

Improvements to the speedway would potentially be funded through ticket user fees and increased lease revenues from an improved facility. Potentially, a portion of ticket sales taxes, which would exclude the dedicated share of any ticket revenue reserved for Metro Nashville Public Schools, would also fund improvements.

If a partnership is formed, Bristol Motor Speedway would expand its nationally acclaimed Speedway Children’s Charities to include Nashville. The organization’s mission is to solve challenges affecting young people, including health, learning, homelessness and other issues, by supporting local agency partners. In 2019, Speedway Children’s Charities donated more than $3 million to nonprofit partners nationwide, for total of more than $59.4 million donated since 1982.

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