Forlorn Forecast for Nashville’s Field of Broken Dreams
GLADEVILLE, Tenn. – Dover Motorsports president and CEO Denis McGlynn says there is no change in the status of Nashville Superspeedway, which means the track is destined for another season of silence.
The track, located 35 miles from Nashville, stopped racing following the 2011 season. Attendance – never robust – had withered away for NASCAR’s Camping World Series truck races and Nationwide Series races. The IndyCar Series bailed out in 2008.
Dover officials say all options are open, including the sale of the track. So far there have been no takers.
“It’s a hard sale, given the state of the economy,” says Gary Baker who at one time operated Fairgrounds Speedway, owned Bristol Motor Speedway, and had a piece of Atlanta Motor Speedway.
“A racetrack – especially one with a history of poor attendance – is not exactly a hot commodity.”
The Superspeedway opened with high hopes and fanfare in 2001, but warning lights immediately flickered when the inaugural Nationwide race failed to sell out. Dover dismantled approximately 10,000 temporary seats, reducing capacity to about 40,000. But even then the grandstands yawned.
After a decade of declining attendance Dover pulled the plug following the 2011 season.
“Whose fault was it? Nobody’s,” says Terrell Davis, host of a local radio racing show who broke the story about Dover’s move here. “Dover built a first-class facility, worked hard to make it a success, and it didn’t work out. There are a lot of theories about why, including a rotten economy and running minor-league races in a major-league market. But it’s not Dover’s fault. Nobody’s wanted the track to succeed more than they did.”
The question is, what now?
Last year the Superspeedway was occasionally leased to some NASCAR teams for testing. But that revenue flow was a trickle, compared to Dover’s multi-million-dollar investment and outstanding debt obligations.
Baker believes the facility could be used as an R&D site for the various auto manufacturers in the area. But as for racing, the prospects remain dismal.
“Part of the problem is the design of the track,” Baker says. “Dover tried to build a track that would accommodate open-wheel racing and stock car racing, and ended up with a track that wasn’t particularly good for either.”
Baker says if he had the track the first thing he would do is re-design it – a daunting investment on top of what Dover has already sunk into the project.
“It would be extremely difficult,” Baker says. “When I talk about how the economy has rocked racing, I speak from experience.”
Baker last year was forced to close the Nashville-based Baker Curb Racing team he founded with partner Mike Curb. The team lost its sponsor, couldn’t land another, and was forced to shut down.
Meanwhile Baker’s old track, Fairgrounds Speedway, wobbles along on fumes and prayers. Promoter Tony Formosa Jr. plans to run a handful of local-division races at the city-owned facility this season. That’s a somber shadow of the track’s glory days when Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison, Bill Elliott, Darrell Waltrip and other legends raced there.
That golden era ended in 1984 when Fairgrounds Speedway lost its two annual Winston Cup races. It has no chance of ever getting them back. The track is too old, too small, too land-locked, too ham-strung by mismanagement to ever again host big-league races.
The area’s racing future was pinned squarely on the Superspeedway. It would run IndyCar races and second- and third-tier NASCAR races while Dover lobbied for a magical Cup race somewhere down the road.
But fans failed to support NASCAR’s minor league races, the Cup hopes never materialized, Indy bailed out, and gradually the turnstiles rusted. And so it sits.
Meadowlarks whistle forlornly in the weedy infield and the wind moans through vacant grandstands – a Field of Broken Dreams. They built it, and nobody came.
– Larry Woody can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments