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Woody: Nashville Bids Farewell To A Racing Era

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, October 5 2010

Sterling Marlin, one of several drivers who called Nashville's Fairgrounds Speedway his home. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

There were two big racing stories in Music City on Sunday morning; one of triumph and one of loss.

Dario Franchitti, who resides in the Nashville suburbs of Leiper’s Fork, won his third Indy Racing League championship. And 106 years of stock car racing ended at the State Fairgrounds.

The city of Nashville, which owns the Fairgrounds property, plans to re-develop it. It announced earlier this year that the track would be closed at the end of the season. That end came with the weekend’s All-American 400.

There are still some last-ditch efforts under way to save the Fairgrounds and the racetrack, but those efforts are not expected to succeed.

President Andrew Jackson used to travel from his Hermitage home to the Fairgrounds to watch horse races, and in 1904 the first automobile race was held on a dirt oval.

In 1958 a paved five-eights-mile track opened, and stock car racing had been a staple ever since.

Until 1984 NASCAR ran two annual Grand National (now Sprint Cup) races in Nashville, drawing the top drivers in the sport who raced before sellout crowds.

Several local drivers honed their career on the track and went on to NASCAR stardom, most notably Darrell Waltrip, Sterling Marlin and Bobby Hamilton.

After NASCAR left, the track went through several management changes and interest and attendance steadily dwindled. Also the city landed an NHL team and NFL team, and the sports landscape shifted. Stock car racing gradually disappeared from the media radar.

Marlin was in the weekend lineup and bid a somber farewell to the track on which his late father Coo Coo won four championships.

Gary Baker, now a NASCAR team owner, at one time operated the track. He was inducted into the Fairgrounds Speedway Hall of Fame on Friday night, terming the event “bittersweet.”

Retired NASCAR flagman Doyle Ford, who got his start at the Fairgrounds, also was inducted.

Among the drivers on hand for the final races were Chase Elliott and Ross Kenseth, sons of NASCAR stars Bill Elliott and Matt Kenseth.

“It’s sad to see all the old tracks closing,” Marlin said. “You wonder where young drivers are going to get their start in the future. They (city officials) say closing this track to re-develop the property is a sign of progress, but I don’t agree with their definition of ‘progress’ if it means paving over your history and your traditions.”

– Larry Woody can be reached at lwoody@racingtoday.com

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, October 5 2010
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