Speedway Motorsports, the company that owns Bristol Motor Speedway and seven other NASCAR tracks, has bid on the contract to operate Nashville’s fairgrounds racetrack, the company confirmed Wednesday.
Speedway Motorsports is at least the second applicant to operate and promote races at the fairgrounds. Current operator Tony Formosa also applied for the contract.
Speedway Motorsports is a publicly traded company and its founder, NASCAR Hall of Fame member Bruton Smith, is a luminary in the motorsports community.
The bid by Speedway Motorsports brings another level of intrigue to the future of the fairgrounds property, which Mayor Megan Barry’s administration has also picked as the site for a professional soccer stadium. Metro’s plan is for the racetrack and soccer stadium to co-exist there.
The applicant is technically Bristol Motor Speedway, which is the company’s Tennessee business entity. BMS is wholly owned by Speedway Motorsports.
“We can confirm that Bristol Motor Speedway (BMS) has submitted a proposal to manage the historic Fairgrounds Speedway and would be honored to serve as its promoter,” said Jerry Caldwell, executive vice president and general manager of Bristol Motor Speedway. “Bruton Smith, executive chairman, and Marcus Smith, chief executive officer, have a vision that the venue can again become a premier destination, and they have a solid reputation of creating world-class facilities.”
Caldwell emphasized the company’s desire to collaborate with Metro while also balancing historical concerns about the nuisance the fairgrounds racetrack has been for noise reasons.
“If selected, the BMS team stands ready to work in collaboration with the city of Nashville to boost the fan experience, improve safety and produce iconic events at the Fairgrounds Speedway,” Caldwell said. “We are confident that great success can be achieved for the racetrack while balancing the quality of life for its surrounding neighbors.”
The company has a track record of elevating racetracks. When it purchased Bristol Motor Speedway in 1996, the racetrack had a capacity of about 70,000 fans. Now Bristol Motor Speedway can host 160,000 and is the centerpiece of the company’s racetrack assets.
The company also owns racetracks in Charlotte, North Carolina; Atlanta; Loudon, New Hampshire; Sonoma, California; Fort Worth, Texas; Las Vegas; and Sparta, Kentucky.
While lagging television ratings and some inconsistent attendance have put NASCAR’s popularity in decline in recent years, Speedway Motorsports brought in $512.1 million in revenue in 2016.
The company’s ties to NASCAR would seemingly boost the possibility of at least lower-level professional races returning to Nashville. NASCAR’s top racing series left Nashville in 1984.
NASCAR acknowledged in May that it has had discussions about returning to Music City.
“NASCAR has a long history in the Nashville area and our fans there are as passionate as any place we race,” the organization said in a May statement. “NASCAR races are in demand, and we’re pleased with our current lineup of racetracks. Many of the discussions related to racing in Nashville have centered around the popular regional and touring series events.”
Formosa has run the track since 2010. He told The Tennessean earlier this year he would like a long-term contract so that he could make facility upgrades there.
Nashville businessmen Scott Borchetta and Bill Freeman endorsed Formosa’s bid, as did racing legend and businessman Darrell Waltrip.
“Tony has been promoting the Speedway under extraordinary circumstances and on a one-year contract basis for seven years,” Formosa’s lawyer Jamie Hollin said. “He takes great pride in his relationships with the neighborhood and has been a good steward of city-owned property.
“This is a unique property in a unique situation that would be nearly impossible for an outsider to understand. It would be a real shame if he weren’t given the chance to be the promoter under a long-term deal.”
The 59-year-old racetrack is in need of upgrades, and it’s unclear how much private investment Speedway Motorsports would want to put into the facility.
The 117-acre fairgrounds, which hosts flea markets, various expo events, auto racing and the annual Tennessee State Fair, is set to receive a $6 million upgrade that will turn 46 acres on the fairgrounds’ south end to park space and recreational soccer fields.
Another $12 million has been set aside for building demolitions and upgrades, including to the 5/8-mile racetrack’s grandstands.
A financing plan for a new soccer stadium, which a local ownership group hopes will be the home of a Major League Soccer expansion franchise, is expected to be rolled out in the coming weeks.
The fairgrounds’ short track is the second oldest automobile racetrack in the country, and the property has held car races there since 1904, according to background information in Metro’s request for bids.
The fairgrounds racetrack has six races on its 2017 schedule.
BY Nate Rau, USA TODAY NETWORK – Tennessee