Why Not Nashville?
Most that follow this site know how much I enjoy living in Nashville. I love the Tennessee Titans and my nearby Tennessee Vols. Although I’m not much of a hockey fan, I enjoy taking in an occasional Nashville Predators game. In my later years, I’ve developed an ear for country music. Although I was somewhat dragged to it, I attended a Taylor Swift concert in September and came away very impressed. Overall, life is very good here.
Although Nashville isn’t known as a hotbed for open-wheel racing, there is a handful of hard-core fans that live here. The North American headquarters of Firestone is based in the Music City. Nashville is also home to three-time defending IZOD IndyCar Series champion Dario Franchitti and Indy Lights champion and IndyCar rookie Josef Newgarden. Barber Motorsports Park is three hours away and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is only a four-hour drive.
Although I’m proud to call Nashville home, I don’t think I’ve ever been known as a “homer”. Case in point, is my opinion of Nashville Superspeedway. Unlike my partner-in-crime on One Take Only; John McLallen – I’ve always considered the now-dormant track to be a disappointment, to say the least. John refuses to admit any of Nashville Superspeedway’s shortcomings, of which there are many.
First of all, the name of the track is a misnomer. The venue sits squarely in the middle of Wilson County, not Davidson County where Nashville sits. With no traffic, it takes a full hour to get to the track in Gladeville, TN from Nashville. Once you get there, you’ll notice that there is nothing in sight. I don’t mean, there are a few businesses or buildings – there’s NOTHING. Not a gas station, not a convenience store, not any form of a dining establishment, a watering hole or hotel. There are no homes. There is nothing but farmland, a water tower and a racetrack carved out of the limestone rock surrounding it. The nearest hotel is forty-five minutes away in Murfreesboro. It just seemed like a foolish location for the track that opened in 2001. It disproves the theory of “If you build it, they will come”.
The location was not the only problem. In their infinite wisdom, Dover Motorsports decided to create a narrow 1.33-mile oval that is paved in concrete. Rough concrete. Rough and abrasive concrete. The narrow track offered little opportunity for passing. On the plus side, the stands were always full. Nashville supported this race, but even that was a little misleading because the stands only held 25,000. All of this led to the decision for the track to cease operations at the end of their season this past summer – a season which consisted of only two Nationwide races paired with two NASCAR Truck races.
This was after IndyCar stopped racing at Nashville Superspeedway after the 2008 event. Although the series caught heat locally, I always blamed Cliff Hawks – the clueless oaf who was the General Manager of the track. With rumors swirling that IndyCar may leave the Nashville market, Hawks was interviewed on local TV and was asked about the possibility that 2008 may be the last race for the series. He actually said he had no idea what the reporter was talking about. The look on his face told me that this was the first time he had actually heard this. He was not that clever of a liar. I think he was that clueless. He explained that he was confident that IndyCar would renew their contract just as they always had and nothing was different from previous negotiations. Two week later, it was announced that IndyCar would not be returning and Hawks appeared stunned.
Much has changed since those days. Nashville Superspeedway has been silenced, with no activity scheduled for 2012. Meanwhile, IndyCar has become INDYCAR and is starving for ovals. In fact, INDYCAR is on a quest to add at least two more venues of any type for the 2012 season. Why? Because the sponsorship agreement with series sponsor IZOD requires at least sixteen race weekends. Anything less could be seen as a breach of contract, allowing IZOD to walk away. With the announcement that Las Vegas Motor Speedway is now officially off of the 2012 schedule, the series currently has only fourteen events confirmed for next season. Texas has yet to be confirmed and Baltimore is looking iffy, at best.
In the meantime, there are fans screaming for more ovals. Currently, only three are confirmed – Iowa, Fontana and Indianapolis. We are still hoping for Texas, but that would still be only four. Gateway in St. Louis, another former Dover track, is reopening. Memphis Motorsports Park has been mentioned, but not as a real possibility. Pikes Peak and Walt Disney World are talked about as possibilities, but they have both been dormant for years with dismantled stands. Phoenix and Chicagoland are not available for next year for a variety of reasons. As for road course ideas, many want to finish the season on the road course at Indianapolis. Although it might help satisfy the sixteen race requirement, I would avoid that if at all possible. The purist in me just doesn’t want to see the series race another race there.
And then there is Nashville. Last night, Curt Cavin correctly pointed out that the staff of Nashville Superspeedway has been dissolved. He later quoted Randy Bernard as saying that Nashville can’t happen. My question is why? If a property has been shut down, could the series not lease the property from the owner for a steep discount and use their own people to pull off a race? Could Dover not shift some of their people over to help with a once a year event? Based on what I saw from Cliff Hawks, having him out of the way could be the best thing that ever happened to the white-elephant track.
I know very little in the way of what kind of manpower it takes to pull off an event like this, but the people at IMS certainly do They handle many events much bigger than what we’re talking about, throughout May as well as July and September. Could they not help Randy Bernard and his staff try and run a successful race here? If he’s looking for volunteers to try and pull off a race here, I’ll do whatever I’m asked to do for free – whether that’s selling tickets or parking cars.
Maybe I’m being a little naïve, but why not Nashville? It seems that these are desperate times as far as the 2012 schedule goes and desperation requires extraordinarily creative thinking. I don’t think anyone wants to see IZOD walk away. Randy Bernard has to get very creative and do whatever is necessary to guarantee that next year’s schedule contains the required sixteen-race schedule. Not reaching that goal could inflict irreversible damage on the IZOD IndyCar Series in more ways than I care to imagine. If that means throwing together a skeleton crew of volunteers in Nashville, then count me in. If not, then I hope there’s a plan in place to reach sixteen races for next year.