Woody: Nashville Racers Try To Save Old Track
I’ve known Chad Chaffin and Bobby Hamilton Jr. since they were kids. I covered their dads’ racing careers and, later on, chronicled their own NASCAR adventures.
They’re both great guys and that’s why awhile back when I heard they were awarded a two-year lease to operate Nashville’s 54-year-old Fairgrounds Speedway I wasn’t sure whether congratulations or condolences were in order.
Chaffin and Hamilton plan to run a limited schedule of races for at least the next two years – the extent of the promise by the city to keep the Metro-owned track open.
After two years there is a chance the 114-acre site could be sold or re-developed.
“We’re going to do our best to keep racing alive in Nashville,” said Chaffin.
Chad raced at the track, as did his father Neil. Bobby Hamilton Jr. was never a regular as was his famous father Bobby Sr., who won two track championships. But Little Bobby raced there periodically and he shares Chaffin’s devotion to the track.
“It’s a special place,” says Hamilton, who also operates Highland Rim Speedway in Ridgetop, 20 miles north of Nashville, and Riverside Raceway in Carthage, 60 miles east of the city. “There’s too much history in this old track to let it just disappear.”
Not only did Hamilton’s late father race at the Fairgrounds, his grandfather, Preacher Hamilton, was a crew chief for country/western crooner Marty Robbins. Robbins would often run the Saturday night race, then dash downtown to the Ryman Auditorium to perform on the late-night segment of the Grand Ole Opry.
In one famous incident the race had been delayed by wrecks and cautions and was running late. Marty was leading when he suddenly swerved into the pits and begun to unbuckle. Preacher Hamilton rushed over to see what was wrong with Devil Woman (Marty’s name for his race car).
Nothing’s wrong, said Marty, except that it’s getting late and he’s due at the Opry.
“Those are great stories,” says Bobby Jr. “That’s the kind of history we don’t want to lose.”
The old track, like many around the country, has struggled in recent years. Attendance has declined as more and more fans stay home to watch the NASCAR big-leaguers on TV.
As the late Fairgrounds promoter Bob Harmon once said, every night that NASCAR races on TV is one more night the local tracks can’t operate. And once fans get out of the habit of coming out to their local tracks, it’s hard to get them back.
Sometimes the heart overrules the head. Could that be the case for Chaffin and Hamilton as they try to revive and rescue racing in Music City?
“We know we have some obstacles to overcome,” Chaffin says. “It won’t be easy but I think it can be done with the right approach. The first thing we have to do is generate some media attention and let the public know the old track’s still running. We’ve got some ideas that I think will generate interest and get the fans’ attention. Can we save it? We won’t know till we try. All we know for sure is that we’re going to give it our best shot.”
– Larry Woody can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.orgOne Comment