A Track Future Very Much In Doubt

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Just the other day, I had someone ask me when the sale of Nashville Superspeedway was going to close. Admittedly, I had forgotten that the original closure date as well as the extended closure date had passed without a word. The sports-talk radio stations here hardly even discuss NASCAR, so they aren’t going to spend a lot of time talking about racing when our Tennessee Titans have been so impressive. Our local paper gave the original announcement a good deal of ink (a soon-to-be antiquated term) back in May; but there has been nary a word since.

When NeXovation, Inc., a Nashville based company that no one has ever heard of, announced they would be buying the abandoned track; I revealed my skepticism of the transaction on this site. Nothing has happened since to change my mind. When the purchase was announced in May, it was expected to close before the end of the third quarter. When it became obvious the September 25 deadline would not be met; Dover Motorsports, the current owner of the facility, granted them an extension to October 25. Now another extension has been granted. A look at the NeXovation website reveals that they expect the deal to close by the end of the year. They’d better get going – that’s three weeks from today.

Quite honestly, I don’t think for one moment that this deal will get done by the end of this year or next year. Someone else may come in and buy the property, but I don’t think it will be this group.

This past June, I wrote an article about how cynical I was about NeXovation and their ability to pull this off. Instead of rehashing their shortcomings, of which there are many, I would direct you to read the article here. If you choose not to go back in time and read it, I’ll wrap them up in a nutshell – essentially, this is a company built on paper.

NeXovation, Inc. bills itself as “a global, multi-industry innovation company that operates as an entrepreneurial conglomerate in the fields of innovation and technology, motorsports venues, automotive, aerospace, wiring, media, musical instruments and consumer products.” That pretty well covers a vast array of just about anything.

There are a lot of supposed great ideas that CEO Robert Sexton has, but there are two vital things that they don’t have. They have no product and no income. Yet they are owners of a patented technology called Flatwire that Sexton invented back in 1986. As slowly as technology moves, I’m sure that technology that’s almost thirty years-old is still relevant today. Hmmm…

Probably the biggest red-flag to me was when this group tried to buy Germany’s Nürburgring last spring. NeXovation submitted the highest bid for the famous track, at roughly $207 million. The winning bid was $68 million lower. I’m no financial wizard, but that tells me that the Nürburgring’s owners had serious reservations about that deal ever going through. Why else would they take a bid that was only two-thirds of the NeXovation offer?

Without piling on NeXovation anymore, let’s assume what I believe to be true – they won’t pull this deal off. Then what? I don’t think that NeXovation is in a bidding war. There doesn’t appear to be any other suitors waiting in the wings to take this white elephant off of Dover’s hands.

While it is not one of the ovals that IndyCar fans are clamoring a return to – it has shown to be a track that can host an IndyCar race. Who knows, the DW12 has proven to be racy on tracks where the previous Dallara was not. Maybe it could put on a better show here, as well. Nashville Superspeedway has many shortcomings, one of which is the narrow concrete surface that has produced mostly single-file parades and little racing in the past. Would that change? I have no idea – especially with the aero-kits coming next season.

But the racing hasn’t been all bad. Gil de Ferran and Sam Hornish had a spirited battle in 2003, with de Ferran finally coming out on top. Tony Kanaan had a good drive in winning the 2004 race on his way to the IndyCar championship. Dario Franchitti won a race of attrition in 2005. Scott Dixon won the final three races from 2006-2008 that were yawners pretty well dominated by Dixon. Those final three races are probably what sticks in most people’s minds, giving the lasting, but false impression that all IndyCar races at Nashville were stinkers.

I’ve been fairly critical of the track that is located near my hometown. Notice I said near, but not in. That’s because Nashville Superspeedway is located in the middle of nowhere. Don’t believe me? Google it. It is nestled square in the next county, due east of Music City. There’s nothing that can be done about that. Converting it from concrete to asphalt could be doable, but reconfiguring the narrow track surface may or may not be cost-prohibitive.

But there were a lot of positives about the eight IndyCar races that were run here between 2001 and 2008. First of all, it’s a very nice facility. It was built during the oval track boom of the late nineties and early 2000’s that also included Fontana, Homestead, Chicagoland, Kentucky and Kansas; which means it is still relatively new.

It also looks good on television. Why? Because the stands are small. The permanent stands hold about 25,000 with areas for temporary stands that will expand seating to about 45,000. Usually, this race was a sellout – or very close to it. It was one of the few tracks that the camera didn’t shy away from showing a sparse crowd in the background.

Another positive was the trophy for winning a race – a special Les Paul designed Gibson guitar. Aside from the Borg-Warner Trophy, it was probably the most desired trophy among drivers. It was a very unique reward to display in their trophy case – unless your name is Kyle Busch.

That trophy was a symbol of one of the biggest positives of all – the city of Nashville. At the risk of sounding like a boastful homer – I happen to live in a very happening city. On Trackside, I’ve heard Curt Cavin and Kevin Lee describe Nashville as one of their favorite cities of all the IndyCar stops they have been to. If country music is your thing, this is the place for you. But many that come here are pleasantly surprised to find out that there is so much more to our city than just country music.

Not only is Nashville a great place to visit, it is close enough to Indianapolis – the heartland for IndyCar fans – for them to make another race, much like they did for Chicago and Kentucky. Downtown Nashville is barely a four hour drive from downtown Indianapolis. With a Saturday night race, that makes for a nice weekend.

My fear is that after the NeXovation bid falls through (which it will), there will be no one looking to buy Nashville Superspeedway. Being in the middle of nowhere, there is no real demand for the land it sits on – but it won’t sit there unused forever. Dover Motorsports will eventually unload it to someone who will use the land for something other than racing.

My hope is that if there are no buyers in the coming months, Mark Miles may strike a deal to rent the track and IndyCar could staff, run and promote a Verizon IndyCar race for 2016 – sort of the way Randy Bernard tried to do at Las Vegas in 2011. Despite the tragic outcome and the $5 Million challenge, it was not a bad plan going in. It just got lost in the devastating circumstances surrounding the event.

Pocono and/or Milwaukee may be off the 2016 schedule. IndyCar will be scrambling for ovals. With an oval that is still in good shape, not owned by IMS or SMI and sitting right here in my hometown – it makes sense that they could try it for one year. I have an idea that Dover Motorsports would be open for anything at that point. If it’s a success, perhaps it could continue into the next year and then maybe a suitable buyer for the unloved facility could be found.

But if IndyCar turns their nose up at the quirky 1.33 mile oval located in the booming metropolis of Gladeville, TN, I’m afraid that Nashville Superspeedway may return to being the farmland it was just twenty years ago. That would be a shame.

George Phillips

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12 Responses to “A Track Future Very Much In Doubt”

  1. IndyCar’s track renting days are long gone, I’m afraid.

  2. Would make sense if that were the direction Indycar management was going. Unfortunately its not.

  3. “Milwaukee may be off the 2016 schedule”. I resemble that remark. Enough negative thoughts can result in a negative outcome.
    I have to believe it will still be on the schedule. Of course, IndyCar will move the date once again and start the race even later hoping for a full moon. I inherited a glass half full attitude from my grandfather who rode around in his tractor in central Indiana listening to the Cubs games fully believing that they would someday get to the World Series.

    I sincerely hope there is a positive outcome for your Nashville track given the current state of Titan football.

  4. It is a shame about our Superspeedway. Even though it’s so far out, the grounds seem(ed) like the perfect place for a motorsports complex. I do believe that might have been a plan at one point but it sure never materialized. I think what really missed the mark was not building a quality road course. Looking around to Birmingham and Bowling Green they have wonderful road course facilities that I can’t help but think could have found a good home in (near) Nashville.

  5. billytheskink Says:

    If Dover is willing to part with the track for peanuts and its road course is appealing to SCCA racers, Nashville Superspeedway could wind up like Texas World Speedway. Granted, Texas World is likely to be leveled as development encroaches, but it has had a very nice 30+ year run as a club track while many other facilities have fallen to the wrecking ball.

    It is unfortunate that neither IMS nor one of Indycar’s team owners was interested in Dover’s fire sale, they could have secured 3 modern, safety standard-meeting tracks for the Indycar schedule.

  6. This scenario reminds me of PPIR in my home state in Colorado. The IRL had a date there for years just after the split in 1996 until the ISC (NASCAR) purchased the entire facility banning ticket sales for any professional events. It was a travesty for local race fans. It devolved to a club motorsports track and 3/4 of the grandstands were removed. It is now a shell of its former self. It is also, out in the middle of nowhere. South of Colorado Springs along west of I-25 that additionally ,could not handle the volume of traffic when the event ended. Somewhat similar to what Kentucky Speedway went through before improvements were made when NASCAR had their first event there.

    Now that I live in Louisville, a race in Nashville would be great. Something somewhat close. One more track to go to. I wish it would happen again someday.

  7. I know the post-IRL Indycar is all about budget and bottom lines, but didn’t someone say you have spend money to make money? I like to see them invest in some of these soon-to-be-defunct ovals, make ’em into entertainment venues much like COTA and keep ovals a legitimate part of Indycar.

  8. The Lapper Says:

    The point about NSS is can it make money? To do so it would need more than an IndyCar race, a truck race and two second tier NASCAR races. That is a large area of land to take care of and if that is all you got then don’t bother. On the other hand, build a dirt track and a drag strip to go along with the track and maybe you can make a dollar. Regardless, you would have to patiently love racing because even with all of that the margins would be tight.

    Bruton Smith didn’t buy NSS for a reason.

  9. I really want more oval races, but I want them at tracks that produce exciting racing like Michigan or Chicagoland or Kentucky or maybe trying Charlotte or Atlanta. Nashville was a pretty dull track. The only way I would want to see Indycar back would be to have asphalt and a wider track. Make it a 1.5 mile banked speedway and then it might be worthwhile, or if that’s to scary an Iowa (not Richmond) style .75 mile. The only thing worth watching at Nashville were Trucks. nationwide and Indycar were pretty dull. I’d rather see a longer road course than Nashville.

  10. Indycar is not interested in owning tracks. Owning a track is a money pit. Indycar is like any other entertainment, a road show that is brought to a venue, paid a “sanction fee” and promoted with hopes of a profit. Anyone can hold an Indycar race at Nashville. Just come up with a million bucks and ask. Then sell sponsorships and tickets – Indycar maintains the broadcast rights. These days the process is akin to Professor Harry Hill arriving to sell band uniforms and instruments. The Indycar business model is generally awful, particularly in a longtime down economy. Promoters can’t make money while Indycar scrambles to find sufficient ovals. As a point of reference, Milwaukee is a cheap date promoted by Andretti Motorsports. It is assumed Andretti gets a huge break on the fees for the trouble of promoting at one of the few available ovals that happens to have a AAA/USAC/CART history. If anyone could make a go at Nashville, it is Andretti. It would be another cheap date for the series, which is desperate for ovals.

  11. Regarding “new” tracks to add to the schedule, I wonder why no possible promoter has tried copying the successful concept of the “Iowa Corn Indy”: an important part of that concept is hosting a race somewhere in the country in between cities where there is not much competition with a local title sponsor footing a large part of the sanctioning fee.

    Might that work at Nashville? Maybe it would. The “Nashville Sound Indy” has a nice ring to it.

    Let’s first see how NOLA turns out before Andretti begins promoting the next venue.

    Other venues that might make it to IndyCar with a similar concept to Iowa:
    -Miller Motorsports Park in Utah
    -Pikes Peak International Raceway (does it still exist?)
    -Kentucky Speedway at Sparta, Kentucky (why have they let this one go?)

  12. I wish IMS would just buy the place and run it themselves. If they cannot make a profit, no one can, and we more or less can concede the IndyCar schedule one day soon will consist of one oval.

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