fairgrounds

This is an artist's rendering of the future Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway, where several local drivers will compete.     

“Wonderful!”

That was the response of veteran Mt. Juliet racer Bennie Hamlett to Tuesday’s announcement of a 30-year lease of Nashville’s Fairgrounds Speedway by Speedway Motorsports Inc. – which last month purchased Nashville Superspeedway.

“The upgrades to the track (reportedly around $100 million) and the attention and excitement it will generate will be great for racing on all levels,” said Hamlett, who has been competing at the Fairgrounds since 1988.

Hamlett added: “I’m not sure how much longer the old track could have survived without the SMI deal. It probably saved it.”

However, Lebanon’s Scott Fetcho, another veteran racer, is not so sure.

“It will shorten our already-short local schedule,” said Fetcho, one of the track’s past top drivers, whose son Dylan won the championship last year.

“Under its agreement with Metro, the Fairgrounds is allowed to run only 13 events, including our nine local races,” Fetcho said. “If SMI brings in more, they’ll have to eliminate some of our races.”

Hamlett and Dylan Fetcho are among several Wilson County racers who compete at the Fairgrounds, joining Hunter Wright, Chase Johnson, William Hale and Brittney Zamora in the premier division.

Nashville mayor John Cooper was joined in making Tuesday’s announcement by Marcus Smith, president and CEO of Charlotte-based SMI. The company will assign a management team from Bristol Motor Speedway – one of several tracks it owns -- to oversee the Fairgrounds operation.

SMI plans to bring NASCAR’s three touring series to the 63-year-old track, including a return of the premier Cup Series. Fetcho questions whether the cramped inter-city facility can handle the increased traffic.

“Traffic was a disaster at the All-American 400, which had a relatively small crowd,” he said. “I don’t see how they can possibly handle a big Cup crowd. I hope it works out, but I’m skeptical.”

Hamlett doesn’t share those concerns.

“I’ve been assured that the change won’t impact our local racing,” he said. “And Bristol Motor Speedway (which seats 160,000) knows how to handle traffic and crowds. I’m sure they have a plan.”

The impact of the Fairgrounds’ NASCAR races on Nashville Superspeedway’s events is unknown.

Since SMI will operate both tracks, it is assumed there will be no friction, and that Nashville’s booming sports market and Middle Tennessee’s growth can accommodate both.

NASCAR’s 2022 schedules are set, with the Superspeedway holding a second consecutive NASCAR tripleheader June 24-26. Three years remain on NSS’s NASCAR contract.

The earliest Fairgrounds Speedway could be added to the NASCAR schedule would be for the 2023 season, and even that seems unlikely with all the renovations planned. However, SMI, which owns and operates several prominent racetracks across the country, is known for its innovations.

“When they decide to do something, they get it done,” Hamlett said. “It’s going to be exciting to watch what happens.”