No area has a richer heritage – cars were racing in Nashville before they were racing at Indianapolis or Daytona – but that era appears gone forever.
The superspeedway, located on the Wilson County and Rutherford County line, was supposed to be the bridge between the old and the new, ushering Middle Tennessee into a bright modern age of motorsports.
But the bridge collapsed.
The track was closed following the 2011 season. It ran no races last year, and owner Dover Motorsports has no plans to run any this season. Dover would sell the track if it could, but who wants to buy a used racetrack that doesn’t work?
The superspeedway opened with high hopes in 2001, but warning lights immediately flickered when the inaugural race failed to sell out. Dover dismantled some of the 50,000 seats – not a good omen – but even with a reduced capacity the track couldn’t sell out.
After a decade of anemic attendance Dover finally pulled the plug. The question now is, will anyone ever plug it back in?
“It won’t be easy,” said Gary Baker, who once operated Nashville and Bristol speedways and had a piece of Atlanta Speedway. “Part of the problem is the design of the superspeedway. 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.”
If he had the track, Dover said the first thing he would do is redesign it, which would be a huge investment on top of the reported $100 million Dover has already sunk into the project.
“With the economy in the shape it’s in, that would be hard to do,” Baker said. “When I talk about what the economy has done to 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, and with the cost of running a NASCAR Nationwide Series season hovering at around $3 million, they couldn’t keep going.
Meanwhile Baker’s old track, Fairgrounds Speedway, continues to wobble along, running on fumes and prayers. Promoter Tony Formosa Jr. plans to run a handful of local races this season – 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 died in 1984 when Fairgrounds Speedway, the Wrigley Field of racetracks, lost its two annual Winston Cup races. It has no chance of ever getting them back. The track is too old, too small, too landlocked, too hamstrung by mismanagement to ever again host big-league races.
The area’s racing hopes rested squarely on the superspeedway. It would hold Indy Car races and second- and third-tier NASCAR races while Dover lobbied for a magical Cup race somewhere down the road.
But Indy bailed out, fans failed to support NASCAR’s minor league races, and gradually the turnstiles rusted. And so it sits.
A racetrack is supposed to be a place of sound and fury, vibrating with thundering engines and roaring with rambunctious fans.
But at the superspeedway, meadowlarks whistle forlornly in the weedy infield and wind moans through vacant grandstands.
At least it’s an impressive tombstone.