Following the letter of intent signed in March 2021, Bristol Motor Speedway has presented Mayor John Cooper with a proposal to both revitalize the legendary 117-year-old Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway and bring NASCAR Cup Series racing back to Nashville. Mayor Cooper has agreed in principle to the plan.
“This partnership creates an economically viable future for our historic track, spurs hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity, and completes the last unrenovated part of the Nashville Fairgrounds at no cost to the Metro General Fund,” said Mayor John Cooper.
About the Proposal:
The Bristol proposal meets Mayor Cooper’s objectives: revitalize the speedway at no cost to the Metro General Fund; benefit the overall Fairgrounds campus; implement noise mitigation as part of the redesign; reduce track testing days; and generate hundreds of millions of dollars in positive economic impact for Nashville.
The Metro Charter requires auto racing at the Fairgrounds, so Metro Government has an obligation to maintain the facility. A partnership with Bristol Motor Speedway satisfies those obligations while restoring the second-oldest operating motor speedway in the United States back to the national stage.
The Deal’s Benefits:
The partnership will result in a modernized track that meets NASCAR series standards and transform Fairgrounds Speedway into a true multipurpose venue that can also host non-racing, revenue-generating events. BMS is a wholly owned subsidiary of Speedway Motorsports, which owns and operates eight state-of the-art sports entertainment venues nationwide.
A renovated, activated Fairgrounds Speedway under experienced leadership would have a significant economic impact for Nashville and the region. A slate of NASCAR series and other major races in addition to an expanded calendar of revenue-producing non motorsports events would generate about $100 million annually in economic activity, through visitor spending in hotels, restaurants, and other local attractions, according to an analysis by Tourism Economics, a division of Oxford Economics.
Recent renovations to the Fairgrounds have included a new state-of-the-art MLS stadium and new expo facilities, but have lacked a vision for the historic speedway’s future. In March, Metro Government entered a letter of intent with Bristol Motor Speedway to explore involvement with the experienced track operator.
An independent sports finance consultant is currently reviewing the financial framework of the proposed plan. If the external consultant’s report confirms the sound financial footing of the proposal, it will be publicly presented to the Board of Fair Commissioners for consideration once the two open Fair Board seats have been filled. Mayor Cooper is working with Vice Mayor Shulman to create a Fair Board that reflects the cultural diversity of both Fairgrounds visitors and Davidson County overall. If the deal is approved by the Fair Board, the proposal will be submitted to the Sports Authority and the Metropolitan Council with related legislation.
“In keeping with the national profile that Nashville Soccer Club is bringing to the Fairgrounds in 2022, this innovative partnership will bring our historic speedway back to life as a crown jewel in the world of motor sports,” said Mayor Cooper. “No other city has professional soccer and NASCAR side by side. Our Fairgrounds will be a unique asset for Nashville’s future. I look forward to working with Bristol, the State of Tennessee, the Fair Board, the Sports Authority and the Council on this proposal.”
“I grew up going to the Fairgrounds Speedway with my dad on Friday nights, listening to him work as a spotter for racers like Andy Kirby and Steadman Marlin," said Zach Young, District 10 Metro councilmember. "It would be my honor to sponsor legislation that brings NASCAR back to Nashville and restores the track into something that our whole county can be proud of again."
Key terms in the proposal include:
BMS would lease, manage, and operate the city-owned Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway for a 30-year term.
The Metro Sports Authority will issue 30-year revenue bonds to finance the speedway renovation.
BMS will install state-of-the-art sound mitigation components during track renovation and reduce track practice rentals to 20 days per year – a combination that will reduce sound impacts to surrounding neighborhoods by 50 percent, according to analysis conducted by Wrightson Johnson Haddon & Williams, an international acoustics engineering firm.
Revenue streams to pay for the speedway renovation include rent payments, user fees and taxes paid by patrons of the venue, sponsorship agreements, and event revenue.
The proposal limits race and practice dates and addresses other quality of life issues that were raised during more than two dozen community meetings conducted by BMS and the Fair Board over the last few months.
The proposal is contingent on use of "guaranteed maximum price" construction contracts to eliminate the risk of construction cost overruns.
“We’re thrilled to have the opportunity to work with the mayor, government officials and Nashville community to breathe new life in the legendary Fairgrounds Speedway,” said Marcus Smith, president and chief executive officer of Speedway Motorsports and Bristol Motor Speedway. “In addition to bringing major NASCAR series races back to the historic facility, we’ll create a calendar for local racing and special events that generates a positive economic impact for the region.”
Jerry Caldwell, executive vice president and general manager of Bristol Motor Speedway, said, “Once the renovations are complete, Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway will be a new destination for motorsports and entertainment. We’ll operate to maximize event opportunities while mitigating the impact on area residents. Our goal is to create something that Nashville and the surrounding community can be proud of.”
Preserving the Historic Speedway:
Historic preservation is a priority of the plan, Mayor Cooper said. Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway, which opened in 1904, is the second-oldest operating motor speedway in the United States and hosted an annual NASCAR Cup Series event from 1958-1984. It has a celebrated history, with past champions that include Dale Earnhardt, Richard Petty, and local drivers Darrell Waltrip and Sterling Marlin.
“I still remember the first time I came to the Fairgrounds to race. I fell in love with the place after the first lap,” said Dale Earnhardt Jr. “Nashville Fairgrounds is a historic and iconic venue, and Bristol Motor Speedway is the very best partner to continue that storied history. I’m looking forward to witnessing the next chapter in the life of this historic landmark.”
“The historic Fairgrounds Speedway is one of Nashville’s unique entertainment assets and deserves an opportunity to rekindle its great reputation,” said Butch Spyridon, president and chief executive officer of the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp. “The relationship with BMS is an incredible opportunity to restore this track and bring top tier racing back to Nashville.