GLADEVILLE – During a recent media tour of Nashville Superspeedway conducted by Dover Motorsports executive Mike Tatoian, a writer remarked that the yawning grandstands looked about the same as they did during the track’s last race a decade ago.
The personable Tatoian managed a chuckle.
He realizes the first order of business when the track re-opens will be to generate fan support – support that was woefully lacking during the previous 10-year run. Skimpy crowds eventually forced Dover to suspend operations.
So what’s different? Why will a track that flopped then, flourish now?
Tatoian summed it up with one little word:
Starting next June, Dover will move one of its two annual NASCAR Cup races from its Delaware track to the Superspeedway.
For one weekend a year, Gladeville will become a national sports epicenter. NASCAR Cup races on average out-draw every other pro sport per event, including NFL games.
Dover plans to start gradually, expanding the track’s current 25,000-seat grandstands to 35,000 for next year’s opener, then add seats as needed. Some projections have seating eventually exceeding 100,000. Bristol Motor Speedway, the state’s largest sports venue, seats 160,000 and at one time still couldn’t accommodate ticket demands.
Could that happen here?
“It’s possible,” says Gary Baker, who once owned Bristol Motor Speedway, Atlanta Motor Speedway and Nashville’s Fairgrounds Speedway.
“With a Cup race, there’s no limit to the potential,” Baker says. “I’ve always said Nashville was Daytona without the beach. NASCAR fans are country music fans, and Nashville will become a travel destination for them.”
Retired NASCAR champion and Fox Sports commentator Darrell Waltrip of Franklin agrees.
“This is the most exciting thing since NASCAR left (the Fairgrounds) in ’84,” Waltrip says. “Those lower-division races they ran here before didn’t appeal to the fans. They wanted to see the big-leaguers. Well, here come the big-leaguers.”
Tatoian says that in addition to the Cup crown jewel, an Indy Racing League race may return. Other events are planned – perhaps as many as 100 a year -- including music festivals and concerts.
“We’re interested in all events, big and small,” says Tatoian, who projects a $50 million-$75 million economic impact, depending on the number of events and the turnouts. There will be 25-30 full-time employees at the track, and as many as 1,500 event-day workers.
Still, amid the optimism, there are hurdles.
Although Dover plans to spend $8 million-$10 million installing new safer barriers and sprucing up the facility, it won’t re-do the 1.3-mile concrete racing surface and banking. During the previous run, many fans and drivers complained that the track was not “racy” and exciting.
Tatoian says Dover will rely on NASCAR officials and engineers to come up with a special “racing package” that will create better racing.
But the big difference won’t be the track itself, but the cars and drivers that race on it.
“When the Cup guys get out there, there will be plenty of action,” Waltrip says. “I guarantee you, the races won’t be boring.”
The Superspeedway’s reopening resulted from a meeting of the minds between NASCAR and Dover.
“They approached us about it last winter,” Tatoian says. “We had already been thinking about it for a couple of years. Both we and NASCAR were anxious to get back in the Nashville market.”
One of the unknowns – for NASCAR and all other sports -- is the effect of the pandemic if it persists.
“It’s hard to project too far ahead,” Tatoian says. “But we’re taking an optimistic approach. Our focus is on preparing for that first Cup race.”
The future potential is breath-taking: a sports facility that could eventually out-draw the Titans. But first things first: get the track ready, roll out NASCAR’s big-leaguers, and see how fans respond to the racetrack’s revival.
Second chances don’t come along often. The Superspeedway is getting one.