Three-time NASCAR champion and Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip predicts the second time will be a charm for Nashville Superspeedway.
After being closed for a decade due to sputtering attendance, the Gladeville track will re-open with a bang next June 20 when it hosts a nationally-televised NASCAR Cup race.
The track was unable to secure a Cup race during its previous run, and fans didn’t turn out for the lower-level races.
Waltrip says having Cup racing this time will spell success.
“The Cup race will make all the difference in the world,” says Waltrip, a Franklin resident who, after retiring from driving, spent 18 years as a Fox Sports commentator.
“No disrespect to the races they ran before,” he says, “but it wasn’t Cup racing. The Cup race will propel the track to the top, and I expect fans to turn out in droves.”
The 2021 Cup race is set for Fathers Day, with potential advantages and disadvantages.
Some families might prefer to celebrate the day at home, while others might jump at the chance to take dad to the race.
“June is a good month on the NASCAR schedule,” Waltrip says.
“Several races will have been run by then, developing some good story lines and building interest and excitement. Also, the weather is usually perfect at that time, not too cool, not too hot. It’s ideal for the drivers and perfect for the fans.”
The rap on the track during its previous 10-year stint was that the competition, even in the lower levels, was not very good.
When Dover Motorsports built the track, it designed the 1.3-mile concrete surface as a hybrid for stock car and Indy Car races. It never seemed suited for either.
Those complaints were not lost on Dover executives. When they announced plans to re-open the track, they said NASCAR would implement a racing package that would improve the competition.
That package was recently confirmed. NASCAR said it will introduce some special aerodynamic car designs specifically for Nashville Superspeedway and Darlington Raceway.
Without getting too technical, the designs will help the cars “stick” better on the track, hopefully generating more passing and side-by-side racing.
There is also a chemical substance that can be applied to the track surface to make the tires adhere better.
But Waltrip says the big difference between the past and the future is not the track, but the cars and drivers that will be racing on it.
“Again, no disrespect to the truck guys and Xfinity guys, but there’s a huge difference when you move up to Cup,” he says. “That’s when the stars come out, and the stars draw the fans.”
Nobody has a better feel for the area racing climate than Waltrip.
He moved to Nashville in 1968 from his Owensboro, Ky., hometown to pursue a racing career at Fairgrounds Speedway. He became the most prominent driver in the track’s history, and used that success to launch his spectacular NASCAR career.
From the late 1970’s through the 1980’s, Waltrip was not only one of the top drivers on the track, he was the sport’s most charismatic driver off it.
He knows what it takes to draw a crowd – exciting racing and colorful personalities.
“We had both back in the old days at the Fairgrounds, and every race was a sellout,” he says. “The same thing can happen at the Superspeedway.”