Ongoing efforts to shut down 53-year-old Fairgrounds Speedway as part of a “redevelopment” of the city-owned property has created a major uproar in Nashville, dividing citizens and politicians in one of the most heated issues in the city’s history.
Some believe the battle is not just about the future of racing in Nashville, but part of a war over the city’s cultural soul.
Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, an attorney who moved to Nashville from Massachusetts, said he is determined to end racing at the site, along with the state fair, flea markets, outdoor shows and other blue-collar events.
Dean said the property can be re-developed and put to better use as part of his “progressive vision” for Nashville, although he has yet to disclose any specific plan.
Fairgrounds supporters note that that the site attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year and carries its weight economically, while most other city-owned sites – including parks and municipal golf courses – do not. Yet the Mayor does not propose shutting down those sites.
They accuse Dean and his supporters of being elitists who are not personally interested in stock car racing, state fairs, flea markets and outdoors shows. They want to close them down to bolster the city’s “urban image.”
The track was scheduled to be closed last year but when re-development plans stalled, it was allowed to operate for one final season. Now track supporters are campaigning to keep it operating on into the future.
Leading that campaign are former NASCAR drivers Darrell Waltrip, Sterling Marlin and Chad Chaffin. All three won track championships at the Fairgrounds before going on to careers in NASCAR’s bigger leagues.
“It would be a shame to lose this track,” Marlin said. “It has been part of this area’s history for over a half-century. There’s no reason to let it die.”
Dean has received support from a neighborhood group that for years has complained about the track noise. But the save-the-track group notes that racing has existed on the site since 1904, and on the current track since 1958.
Anyone who moved into the neighborhood during that time did so knowing the racetrack was there.
“It’s like moving next to an airport, then complaining about planes flying over,” Marlin said.
Some of the neighborhood anti-track faction has expressed concern over the lack of a specific plan for the site. They worry that turning it into an industrial complex, for example, could have a more adverse effect on the neighborhood than does the racetrack.
City politicians are divided over the heated issue which is reaching the boiling point. And there is no end in sight, with law suits threatened by both sides.
While the 2011 season is secure at Nashville Superspeedway (the 10-year-old Dover Motorsports track located 35 miles southeast of the city) the future for the inner-city track remains murky. Will there continue to be racing at the site where motor cars began racing in 1904 or will the Fairgrounds fall silent?
Nobody knows, as the battle rages on.
Larry Woody is a veteran, award-winning sports journalist. Woody began working at the Nashville Tennessean in the 1960s and took over the auto racing beat full time in the early 1970s. Larry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org