Racing History Takes A Beating In Nashville
Larry Woody | Senior Writer
Nashville – She was once fast and frisky and known throughout the nation for her wild Saturday nights, but now she’s faded, forlorn and almost forgotten.
After this weekend all that’ll be left are the memories.
Historic Fairgrounds Speedway is closing its gates, ending a 51-year-run as one of the most fabled short tracks in the sport’s history.
“It’ll be a sad occasion,” said track president Danny Denson who is operating the Nashville Metro-owned facility this season. “I imagine we’ll see a tear or two.”
Added Denson: “This old track is racing’s Ryman,” referring to the legendary downtown Ryman Auditorium, former home of the Grand Ole Opry. “Nashville is losing its history.”
City officials have decided to “re-develop” the 114 acres that the track sits on, giving up not only auto racing but also the annual State Fair, Christmas Village and other long-time entertainments.
Officials claim the events are not profitable, although Denson and others dispute that contention.
“We don’t receive any tax dollars so we can’t lose any taxpayer money, which is more than most city-owned facilities can claim,” he said.
But officials’ minds are made up. Nashville Mayor Karl Dean said the Fairgrounds will officially shut down June 30. Denson said there is no way he can operate for a half-season next year, which means Sunday’s All American 400 will the final race.
Included in the lineup are Ross Kenseth, 16-year-old son of NASCAR star Matt Kenseth, and Chase Elliott, 14-year-old son of popular Bill Elliott.
Denson noted that Nashville’s racing roots run deep.
“Nashville has a longer history in the sport than Indianapolis,” said. “But apparently history doesn’t count for anything any more.”
The first recorded race was run at the Fairgrounds in 1904 by the Nashville Automobile Club. Such notables as Barney Oldfield raced there, and in 1958 the paved five-eights-mile track was built.
Until 1984 the track hosted two annual Grand National (now Sprint Cup) races, and the giants of the sport trooped to Music City – Petty, Pearson, Baker, Allison, Wallace, Parsons, Yarborough, Elliott, Waltrip, Earnhardt …
The track provided training for such prominent future administrators as Eddie Gossage (Texas Motor Speedway president), Ed Clark (Atlanta Motor Speedway president) and Tom Roberts (PR service).
The Fairgrounds was the home-track proving ground for such rising NASCAR stars as Darrell Waltrip, Sterling Marlin, Bobby Hamilton and more than a dozen other area racers who went in to compete in the Cup series.
“No weekly track in the county has a richer history and tradition than this one,” Denson said. “Now it’s about over. It’s a sad day for Nashville and a sad day for racing.”
– Larry Woody can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor’s Note: Larry Woody, a senior writer for racintoday.com, has been inducted into the Fairgrounds Speedway Hall of Fame.
Woody, 62, covered his first race at the track in the late 1960’s for The Nashville Tennessean. After college graduation and a tour in Vietnam as a combat infantryman he returned to the paper and spent 40 years traveling the country as a racing reporter and columnist. He retired from the newspaper two years ago, having received the McLemore Award as the nation’s premier motorsports journalist.
“I’m honored to be in the same Hall of Fame as Darrell Waltrip, Sterling and Coo Coo Marlin, Bobby Hamilton, Marty Robbins and so many other great Nashville drivers and racing personalities,” Woody said. “They weren’t just my story subjects – they were my good friends.
“After a half-century they’re closing the old track but they can never take away the memories. It’s been a heckuva ride.”
– Jim Pedley11 Comments