The Proposed Grand Prix Of Nashville

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It’s amazing what a couple of weeks on the road, away from work and even this site can do for your mindset. After last weekend’s Kohler Grand Prix at Road America, Susan and I went on an excursion into southern Michigan. While I was not excited about it at first, it turned out to be exactly what the doctor ordered. I’m now refreshed, recharged and ready to go – although I’m not terribly excited about today being my first day back at work in two weeks.

This now falls into the category of “old news”, but with vacation and races to attend, this is really my first chance to address a subject that many have been asking me about – the proposed Grand Prix of Nashville.

In case you haven’t heard, a group of investors have quietly put together a proposal that includes a track design by Tony Cotman that will put a street race near downtown Nashville as early as 2019. I say quietly because very few people had heard about this until a few weeks ago when the group made a presentation to the Nashville Sports Authority. The group has reportedly been in talks with the Mayor’s Office for more than a year now. One of the best parts about it is that they are not asking the city for any public funding. Now that they have received the needed approval to proceed from the Sports Council, they are now free to negotiate with racing entities. They are reportedly interested in pitching the idea to either IMSA or IndyCar. Guess which one I’m in favor of.

The not-so-great part, at least on the surface, is that this is to be a parking lot race. No matter how good it might turn out to be, there is just nothing about a parking lot race that sounds sexy. The Houston race that raced around Reliant Stadium (or whatever the current name is) and the Astrodome was a tight course which offered few passing zones. It was 1.68 miles in length, similar to the proposed 1.72 mile layout in Nashville. Here is a diagram of the old Houston circuit followed by a map of the proposed circuit in Nashville that will race around Nissan Stadium, home of the Tennessee Titans.

Houston

BNA Map

In all honesty, I thought the Houston circuit looked better than the one proposed for Nashville. It had the long high-speed sweeping right-hander that ended the career of Dario Franchitti in a frightening looking crash that could have ended up much worse than it was. Maybe in hindsight, a high-speed turn surrounded by concrete and catch-fencing was not such a great idea.

The Nashville track is nothing but a series of 90° turns, except for a slight bend on the far left of the diagram. That area will run between the west side of the stadium and the Cumberland River, which should provide some scenic TV shots.

As much as I’m in favor of this race happening, I seriously doubt that this will be a very racy circuit. It does help that it was designed by Tony Cotman, who designed the street circuits at Baltimore and São Paulo to name a couple. Perhaps it will be racier than I’m expecting. I’ve set the bar pretty low, so practically anything will be an improvement. My mind keeps going back to the horrible Grand Prix of the Meadowlands in New Jersey, just across the river from Manhattan. It raced (which is a generous term) around Giants Stadium and an interstate interchange. It was practically unwatchable and mercifully came to an end after the 1991 season. Will Nashville’s circuit be better than that? Hopefully.

That’s the bad part. The good part is that there are a lot of mistakes in building street courses to learn from – not only regarding the actual circuit, but the surrounding area and additional attractions.

Here is where I’ll sound a bit biased – mainly because I am. Nashville knows how to do big events. If you saw any of the NHL Stanley Cup Final, you saw the side attractions that sprung up on Broadway outside of Bridgestone Arena. That was with just a week or so of planning. The CMA awards in November and the CMA Musical Festival in June that takes place in and around Nissan Stadium are just a couple of the big-time events that Nashville hosts on an annual basis. The SEC Basketball tournament has Nashville on its frequent rotation list because of all the things that Nashville has to offer.

While country music is a big part of the Nashville scene, there is so much more about this city than country music. Many people that don’t even like country music make Nashville a travel destination. There are many outstanding restaurants, historic attractions and music venues that offer many other forms of music. While downtown Nashville can be congested with everything right together, Nissan Stadium is across the bridge. It’s walking distance from downtown or you can drive over and park. There is a lot more room on the east side of the Cumberland River. That’s why organizers have decided to hold the race there instead of downtown Nashville.

The organizers are another plus. These aren’t a few slime-balls that have decided to pull a con-job on a city and fans (i.e. Boston). There are well-respected local heavy-hitters involved, a couple of country-music stars with deep pockets and some folks with racing clout – Joe Mattioli, formerly president of Pocono Raceway and Matt Crews, former president of Baker-Curb Racing – are also involved.

I would also think that locally-based Bridgestone-Firestone would like to have another race in their backyard, after the Firestone 200 at Nashville Superspeedway went away after the 2008 season. That race didn’t fail due to lack of attendance. IndyCar pulled out because of a dimwitted General Manager of the track and the shortsightedness of Dover Motorsports, who owned and designed the poor layout of the track. It ran from 2001-2008 and was a sold-out or a near sell-out crowd every year – despite the fact that it was really in the middle of nowhere, practically forty-five miles from downtown Nashville on a concrete 1.33-mile oval with only one groove. Something tells me that Firestone’s involvement would almost cinch that this race could happen.

If you listened to Trackside a couple of weeks ago, you heard the discussion about where to put this race on the schedule. If you look at the Twitter account of the Grand Prix of Nashville, they site it as a race proposed for spring of 2019. That may be a problem. The St. Petersburg race was March 12 this year. Phoenix will go back to the first weekend in April, followed by Long Beach and Barber. Due to only three hours separating Barber and Nashville, you wouldn’t want it that close on the schedule to Barber.

The Month of May is untouchable for obvious reasons and Belle Isle, Texas and Road America take up most of June. And downtown Nashville (and Nissan Stadium) is taken over te second weekend in June with the CMA Music Festival. Believe me, you don’t want a daytime race in Nashville in July or August. The oval race in Nashville was always in mid-July and it was usually unbearably hot even after the sun went down. Late August is taken with Pocono and Gateway. Then you get into football season where the NFL cannot guarantee an away game for a conflicting weekend – even when the stadium parking lot is being used for something else.

So, the question is – where do you put it on the schedule? The weekend after St. Petersburg is a gamble weather-wise. Nashville had snow on the ground for the IndyCar opening weekend this year. It could be 80° during the race or it could be in the twenties. To me, where to slot it on the schedule is one of the biggest challenges that organizers will face.

Of course, there is always the chance that they could strike a deal with IMSA. My question is – why not both? I don’t really follow IMSA very closely, but do they not share the track with IndyCar at other venues? I know that the old ALMS would share a venue with IndyCar in the past – but I’m not sure about IMSA. I’m sure some of you can answer that question.

Many of you have tweeted me and e-mailed me wanting my opinion of this proposed race, also telling me that no additional street races should ever take place. My question is – are you serious? Do you really think that I would be opposed to a Verizon IndyCar Series race being held barely twelve miles from my front door? While I prefer ovals and natural-terrain road courses to street courses or parking lot races – to think that I would lobby against this race is ludicrous. I would be thrilled if the series returned to my hometown and I would be there for every moment of it. I just hope it all works out so I can actually be there for it.

George Phillips

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10 Responses to “The Proposed Grand Prix Of Nashville”

  1. IMSA and IndyCar share the Long Beach and Detroit weekends.

    As a Tennessean (East TN), I’m excited and hopeful about this event, and I will definitely attend it, whether it’s IndyCar, IMSA, or both. The track layout doesn’t look thrilling but it’s hard to judge that from a simple map. 90 degree turns aren’t automatically boring – there are other factors to consider that can’t be determined from the map.

  2. billytheskink Says:

    The racing at Houston was well-received by fans, but the track was not largely because a stadium parking lot makes for an uninspiring location. The proposed Nashville course looks like it could see the same reception from the fan base. It looks like a coffee pot, but I would think that the 90 degree corners at the end of the longer straits should make for good passing zones. While not picturesque, parking lot races do minimize disruption to the city road grid and are typically easier to get to or around than races held on public streets, which I thought was a tremendous advantage the Houston Reliant Park course had over the downtown course that CART raced from 98-01 (Reliant Park was also racier, and the sweeping right-hand turn by the Astrodome was more interesting than any of the downtown track’s turns, in my opinion).

    I believe the issue with having IMSA and Indycar share an event is that both series prefer to be the main event of the weekend. Granted, IMSA is willing to be the undercard at Long Beach and Detroit, but that likely has to do with the fact that one of those tracks is a legendarily long-running event and the other pleases a couple of their most important manufacturers.

  3. Let me know when Indycar gets the money for the Nashville GP. I would like to see any city that wants a GP to speak with Long Beach and St Pete about logistic of opening and closing streets , traffic and vendor supply flow to and from event .Over the years I have seen a few cities bite off more than they can chew and in the long run all everybody remembers is Yes Indycar came and they failed . I do not want a new city to jump in the deep in of the pool without some swimming lesson from cities that have been around for a few street races .

    • Putting venders together for big events as well as street closings is nothing new to the area promoters and city. This being a race around Nissan Stadium should take care of street closing and as for parking, there is plenty of it. The city has 60K+ 8 times cross the river to the stadium and the venders are constantly working on festivals and promotions like Bonnaroo for quiet some time now. The turnout for last nights (July 4th) fireworks show was estimated at 240K, so getting things worked out is very do-able. However, it is a good idea to talk with Long Beach and St. Pete and get their take on setting up a race week. I’m sure that a lot of that has already been executed so that the group can sell GP sponsorships.

  4. Ron Ford Says:

    Since there may well still be thirteen hundred and fifty-two guitar pickers in Nashville, a good promoter will let kids with guitars in free. I prefer to see parking lots filled with tailgaters and not race tracks. Never-the-less, I will defer to the wishes and hopes of our Nashville friend Geoge and rather than complain about a parking lot race, I will end here and go watch “Law and Order” reruns.

  5. tonelok Says:

    There is nothing better than IndyCars coming to your hometown. I remember when CART came to Denver in the mid 2000’s very well and to be able to jump on my bike and ride out my front door to see an IndyCar race seemed surreal. The track was….ok but having that kind of atmosphere for a weekend seems to transform the city into a place like no other and to hear IndyCars running through the streets is like something out of a dream .

    • Ron Ford Says:

      I agree that “there is nothing better than IndyCars (when I was a kid we called them the “Big Cars”) coming to your hometown. If only they still came to my hometown. Sigh…………………..:(

  6. Nashville always has great rating numbers for the Indianapolis 500 and there was good turnout to the IndyCar races held at NSS. With that, I like the background on these guys as well as the seriousness of the Nashville Sports Authority which is well aware of Baltimore and Boston. The racing, concerts, promotions as well as the downtown night life can make this event a yearly destination. As a Nashvillian, I hope so.

  7. It’s great that Nashville is interested

  8. Olderfan Says:

    I attended every Meadowlands CART race save one, and while neither version of the track would have made you forget Spa, or Road America, the racing wasn’t as bad as you recall.

    Inside the Meadowlands arena was the garage/paddock area, and you could go in and out freely. And the crews had to enjoy the clean, air conditioned space to work in, as opposed to the “garage” areas at more than one venue.

    And being almost directly across river from NYC Indycar got some decent press coverage and exposure ,even though the local paper, the Bergen Record,
    wasn’t complimentary.

    It wasn’t any worse than most of the generally short lived events that populated the IRL/Indycar “street course ” roster

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