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Historic Nashville Track Gets Stay of Execution

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, January 19 2011

Richard Petty gets ready to fire up his Plymouth for a race at Nashville's Fairgrounds Speedway in 1971. The track will live on for at least a little longer. (Photo courtesy of Tammy Brewington)

By Larry Woody | Senior Writer

Nashville’s Fairgrounds Speedway, a 53-year-old track where many of NASCAR’s giants competed over the decades, has avoided the wrecking ball – at least temporarily.

Metro Council on Tuesday voted to hold off on demolishing the track as part of a “redevelopment” of the 114-acre city-owned property.

The vote was a major setback for Nashville Mayor Carl Dean who had lobbied hard for the track’s destruction.

A campaign led by former Speedway racers Sterling Marlin, Darrell Waltrip, Chad Chaffin and others was able to gain the reprieve for the track. They want to present an alternate plan for the site – a plan that will preserve auto racing, the State Fair, Flea Market and other traditional events.

The site was used for horse racing dating back into the 1800’s, and in 1904 the first recorded automobile race was run there. In 1958 the current five-eights-mile paved track was built.

Until 1984 the track hosted races in NASCAR’s top touring series, originally known as the Grand National Division and later the Winston Cup Series. NASCAR withdrew the Cup races after the 1984 season and the track – like many weekly tracks around the country – had struggled with attendance ever since.

(Fairgrounds Speedway is not to be confused with Nashville Superspeedway, located 40 miles to the southeast of the city. That 1.3-mile track, owned and operated by Dover Motorsports, is entering its 11th season and will host two races in the NASCAR Nationwide and truck series.)

The Save-the-Track group, with Marlin its most visible spokesman, is requesting a 15-year lease from the city to allow investors to make capital improvements.

“There’s too much history here to just pave it over,” said Marlin , whose father Coo Coo was a four-time track champion in the 1960’s. Sterling added three more championships in the 1980’s before moving on to a NASCAR career that was highlighted by two Daytona 500 victories.

The mayor claimed that the Fairgrounds property could be re-developed and used to increase tax revenues. His critics pointed out that the same could be said for the thousands of acres of city parks, golf courses, tennis courts and even a sailboat marine that the city owns and maintains at taxpayer expense.

During a heated Tuesday night Council meeting, a neighborhood group complained that the track noise hurts their quality of life and reduces real estate values. But track proponents pointed out that the track has been there for 53 years – and racing has been on the site for more than a century – and anyone who moved into the neighborhood did so knowing they were moving next to a racetrack.

It was also noted that the surrounding property was bought at bargain prices and would escalate in value if the track is demolished – a real estate windfall that might be more of a motive than any improved “quality of life.”

With the track’s demolition on hold, the next step in the process will be for Marlin’s group to present an alternate plan for the Council’s consideration.

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

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, January 19 2011
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