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Woody: Track Debate Has Nashville In An Uproar

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, December 18 2010

Sterling Marlin, these days, is fighting to keep Nashville's racing heritage alive. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

By Larry Woody | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

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

Former Cup champion Darrell Waltrip is taking on city hall in Nashville. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

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 can be reached at lwoody@racintoday.com

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, December 18 2010
8 Comments

8 Comments »

  • Josie Lowery says:

    As a Native Nashvillian the fairgrounds have been a part of my life in many aspects. From a young child enjoying the fair settings , rides and amusements to attending races. In the early 80’s my fathers local business provided towing and wrecker service to the race track and we experiences watching todays Hall of Fame members in the beginning stages of thier career. As life progressed I then enjoyed flea markets as the Nashville Flea Market’s monthly event is like no other in the southeast U.S. Car Shows and racing have always drawn me to that historical site. Now in my mid 40’s I have retired from towing and started a small Nascar Memorabilia Shop. Plans to seek vendor status at the place that has always has had my racing fan heart is now going to disposed of because people of power with in the local goverment have an agenda, being that he (the major)desires to keep his promises to voters that he would close and do away with this icon of racng history..Shame on you Mayor Carl Dean for selling out your self and the Historical place in Nashville..Will u close the airport because locals dont like the noise. I grew up with in 1 mile of that airport and its just a part of life u deal with. Will you close the Ryman becasuse homeless people seek refuge in its alleys …When will politations stop seeking an agenda to get into office an job that should be about preserving our citys history instead of having a PIPE DREAM to spend taxpayers hard earned money and to make Nashville some “City of the Future” Leave our city alone Carl Dean…preserve not destroy our heritage and history..IF You tear down this track You will be burining bridges with a heck of a lot more people than you think!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Terry says:

    Points racing is killing the sport at all the tracks….not just Bristol…( old school L D Ottinger might be this best Old or New Bristol driver ever ….that you never heard of.)
    But that is not the problem with tracks closing or cutting back.
    Alot of blue collar dollars that went to races are out of work
    OR OUT OF LOVE…. with NASCAR. When you court the part time ESPN YUPPY fan…..you get just that PART TIME… they don’t go to small tracks….core fans do…and they don’t scrape together the ticket money no matter what…like core fans do.
    Also the base is moving out of some areas and into others…so like neighborhoods …..sports dymographics change.

  • Steveo says:

    LDB, its not the configuration that is ruining the racing at Bristol, its the darn points racing that goes on that makes for a less than enthusiastic race there. The modifieds put on one hell of a show there.

  • Terry says:

    Memphis is gone….
    Gateway is next….
    Nashville…close behind…
    Atlanta….down to one race….
    The race fans now live in rural areas again and Midwest cities.
    The Dynamics of Choice in these closing track areas are more
    Hip Hop NBA than country and rock NASCAR…..
    even in Country Music City USA.
    Long live Bristol…..

    • LDB says:

      I agree with your comment about Bristol but I can see the handwriting on the wall for that track as well. Since the re-configuration, this track has never been the same. Evidence of that is the end of the sellouts this past season. And heaven forbid, actual commercials on TV reminding everyone that seats were still available for the night race at Bristol. And TV ratings were down for it, too. And my personal opinion of the racing now at Bristol is that it isn’t what it used to be. I don’t want to see a clean pass at Bristol. I loved seeing somebody move another driver out of the way. That was what made Bristol.
      You know, when I heard the drivers say they liked racing at Bristol in this configuration even though it wouldn’t be as exciting for the fans, I knew the magic of Bristol was over. And it is. I no longer view Bristol as a must-watch event. I knew a guy one time who actually changed his wedding date because it was going to fall on the date of the Bristol night race. I doubt he would care if it happened now.

      • Terry says:

        I remember when we could decide on Friday afternoon in Knoxville to take off up Bloody 11 W for Bristol race with a a hand full of 1’s & 5’s…. a tank of gas…cigars-beer-Jack D……and just buy a ticket there. I have watched the race from the top of the bank before i could afford a ticket.
        And watch some of the best ever drive the original track.
        But then again I’m old ….

  • muddphoto says:

    I’m still holding out hope that there will be a stay of execution on the speedway– but with the political powers of I dare say “the liberal elitists” at play, it is not looking good at all. The Titans and the Predators are the city’s darlings now (watch out Nashville Sounds, you used to be the pride of the city and aren’t you on city owned land too?). Even if the track is saved, something has to drastically change with the way the city runs the place, beginning with letting a promoter sign on to a long-term lease. As it is now, no investor is going to spend money on upkeep and improvements if they only have a 1-year lease. Anyway I’ve got 40 years of memories at this place, and hoping for 41.

  • Jeff Chapman says:

    As a Native Nashvillian the fairgrounds have been a part of my life in many aspects. From a young child enjoying the fair settings , rides and amusements to attending races. In the early 80’s my fathers local business provided towing and wrecker service to the race track and we experiences watching todays Hall of Fame members in the beginning stages of thier career. As life progressed I then enjoyed flea markets as the Nashville Flea Market’s monthly event is like no other in the southeast U.S. Car Shows and racing have always drawn me to that historical site. Now in my mid 40’s I have retired from towing and started a small Nascar Memorabilia Shop. Plans to seek vendor status at the place that has always has had my racing fan heart is now going to disposed of because people of power with in the local goverment have an agenda, being that he (the major)desires to keep his promises to voters that he would close and do away with this icon of racng history..Shame on you Mayor Carl Dean for selling out your self and the Historical place in Nashville..Will u close the airport because locals dont like the noise. I grew up with in 1 mile of that airport and its just a part of life u deal with. Will you close the Ryman becasuse homeless people seek refuge in its alleys …When will politations stop seeking an agenda to get into office an job that should be about preserving our citys history instead of having a PIPE DREAM to spend taxpayers hard earned money and to make Nashville some “City of the Future” Leave our city alone Carl Dean…preserve not destroy our heritage and history..IF You tear down this track You will be burining bridges with a heck of a lot more people than you think!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!