LARRY Track

Most drivers at the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway hail from Middle Tennessee - many from Wilson County.

The future of Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway hangs in the balance of ongoing management negotiations, and Wilson County racers are following developments with vested interest.

“I hope the deal goes through,” says Lebanon’s Scott Fetcho, a former Fairgrounds driver whose son Dylan is the defending track champion.

“It think it would be good for local racing.”

“The deal” is a bid by Speedway Motorsports Inc. (SMI) to assume management of the track. SMI would assign a Bristol Speedway management team to operate the track, with a promise to invest millions of dollars in upgrades.

Mt. Juliet driver William Hale questions how much longer the track can exist under its current format.

“We run only eight races a year, with big gaps in the schedule, and it’s hard to maintain interest and support,” he says. “I think an SMI takeover may be our only hope.”

The Fairgrounds facility, the second-oldest continually operating track in the country, is owned by Metro Nashville.

The SMI proposal has the endorsement of Nashville Mayor John Cooper and most councilmen.

However, the deal is opposed by a neighborhood group that claims more racing will mean more noise and traffic.

But, as has been pointed out, the track has been operating since 1958. Anyone who has moved into the neighborhood since then knew they were moving next to a race track, and should have no complaints.

Two high-profile NASCAR personalities – driver Chase Elliott and TV commentator Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- are lobbying hard for the SMI takeover, which could include the addition of a NASCAR Cup race at some point.

Elliott, the defending Cup Series champion who ran (and won) the SRX Series race at the Fairgrounds last Saturday before a crowd of over 15,000, was still gushing about it at the next day’s race in New Hampshire:

“The atmosphere was unbelievable,” said Elliott, who was joined in the Fairgrounds lineup by such racing superstars as his dad Bill Elliott, Tony Stewart and Indy 500 champ Helio Castroneves.

“I wish all of you had been there to see it,” Elliott said. “It was nuts. That’s where we belong. The energy is right there.”

Earnhardt, perhaps the sport’s most influential personality, has long called for a NASCAR return to Fairgrounds Speedway where two Cup races were held annually until 1984.

“It’s a great track with a rich history,” Earnhardt says. “We ought to be racing there again.”

Earnhardt says Nashville Superspeedway in Gladeville could keep its annual Cup race, with a second one run at the Fairgrounds.

NASCAR has indicated it is open to the idea.

Several of the track’s top drivers come from Wilson County.

In addition to Fetcho and Hale, Hunter Wright and Chase Johnson are among the area’s hot young racers, and veteran Bennie Hamlett is one of the track’s most popular drivers.

While some drivers like Hale question whether the track – and local race teams -- can survive without the SMI takeover, Scott Fetcho believes it can.

“For us, eight local races is plenty,” he says. “It gives us a chance to run other tracks. This year, for example, we’ll run five races at Pensacola, two at Montgomery (Ala.), one in Kentucky and four Legends races at Atlanta. That’s a pretty full plate.”

But he realizes some teams don’t have the resources for such extensive travel.

“Being the defending champion helps,” Fetcho says. “But I know other teams aren’t so fortunate. I want what’s best for everyone.”