News & Media

Marlin leads group hoping to save fairgrounds track in Nashville

January 13, 2011, The Associated Press,

Waltrip, Curb among investors ready to renovate former NASCAR short track

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Sterling Marlin thinks his group has an offer Music City can't refuse to save the historic short track where he started racing and where legends like Richard Petty, Fireball Roberts and Dale Earnhardt once competed furiously.

Marlin helped detail a proposal Thursday by Save My Fairgrounds to renovate Nashville's fairgrounds and site of one of the nation's oldest race tracks. Horses first raced there in 1891, and cars began running on the site as early as June 1904. NASCAR's top level raced there until 1984 when Nashville officials refused to improve the track.

City officials have been working to relocate the 117-acre site away from the current location near downtown to revitalize the area with other development, and the track operator couldn't get a yearlong contract for 2010. The state fair and monthly flea market is back for 2011 with no commitment to the track.

Marlin says the Nashville track has been a great proving ground that must be saved or risk having Bristol the only track in Tennessee where NASCAR races with questions about the future of the Nashville Superspeedway swirling.

"It's the best race track in the country," Marlin said of the fairgrounds track. "It's the oldest race track, the best short track laid out ever. You can run side by side for 100 laps. It's a great facility. I think if we would all get together it could be put back to the glory it used to be."

Marlin, three-time Cup Series champion Darrell Waltrip, and record-company executive and team owner Mike Curb are among the investors wanting to renovate Nashville's fairgrounds and save the .596-mile asphalt track. Waltrip didn't attend the news conference but said in a statement the conditions around Nashville Superspeedway give Nashville a chance for investment.

"We have a jewel right here in Davidson County and a real opportunity to capitalize. I hope we don't miss it," the statement read.

The track landed a Nationwide Series race in 1995 and a Truck event in 1996. When Dover Downs Entertainment Inc. took over the track lease in November 1997, the company moved the top races to its new $125 million Nashville Superspeedway some 20 miles away in 2001.

Marlin noted Dover recently closed its tracks in Memphis and Gateway and said rumors swirl regarding the future of the superspeedway a 40-minute drive east of Nashville. Marlin said if Dover closes the superspeedway, the only NASCAR racing in Tennessee would be in Bristol -- a five-hour drive.

Talks with NASCAR officials have encouraged Marlin about the short track's future.

"They lead me on if the track does close in Lebanon [site of Nashville Superspeeway], they'd definitely be interested in coming back out here to the short track with two Nationwide races and two Trucks races ... ," Marlin said. "We'd have to make a lot of improvements. As you can see what they've done here, it's a big beautiful facility if we can get the lease on it. Hopefully we can get it all worked out."

NASCAR driver Chad Chaffin, a two-time champion at the track, said drivers grow up dreaming of racing at the unique oval that mimics courses like Daytona, Darlington and Bristol. He said they may be a little late to this fight.

"It's definitely worthy of preserving. You have to appreciate it to know what we have," Chaffin said.

The proposal detailed Thursday calls for replacing the swath of asphalt parking lots with trees and grass to retain rain and help drainage, a wind farm to take advantage of the hilly location, solar panels and bike paths and walking trails for neighbors. Charging stations for electric cars also are on tap with sound-barrier walls to dampen track noise to keep neighbors happier.

The group is said to have serious investors ready, though no estimate is available yet for the cost for all those renovations. They want at least a 15-year lease from the city.

Marlin, a Tennessee native who made made his NASCAR debut in a Cup race at the track in 1976, first came to the fairgrounds when he was 3 months old with his late father, Coo Coo, and both his son and daughter have raced there. Marlin said he hopes his grandson can race there one day.

"We've got to save it," he said.

Nashville Speedway was the site of 42 Cup races from 1958-84 -- including two a year in 1959, 1964-65 and 1973-84 -- with Petty holding the track record with nine victories. Waltrip, a longtime middle Tennessee resident, had eight wins and Cale Yarborough amassed seven. No other driver had more than three.

Nashville Speedway

Cup Series winners
YearWinner YearWinner YearWinner YearWinner
1959Rex White 1967;Richard Petty  Cale Yarborough  Dale Earnhardt
 Joe Lee Johnson 1968David Pearson 1976Cale Yarborough 1981Benny Parsons
1960Johnny Beauchamp 1969Richard Petty  Benny Parsons  Darrell Watrip
1961Jim Paschal 1970Bobby Isaac 1977Benny Parsons 1982Darrell Watrip
1962Jim Paschal 1871Richard Petty  Darrell Waltrip  Darrell Watrip
1963Jim Paschal 1972Bobby Allison 1978Cale Yarborough 1983Darrell Watrip
1964Richard Petty 1973Cale Yarborough  Cale Yarborough  Dale Earnhardt
 Richard Petty  Buddy Baker 1979Cale Yarborough 1984Darrell Watrip
1965Dick Hutcherson 1974Richard Petty  Darrell Waltrip  Geoffrey Bodine
 Richard Petty  Cale Yarborough 

The speedway last hosted a national touring race in 2000, when both the Nationwide and Truck series held events there. The last NASCAR-sanctioned race at the track -- since renamed Music City Motorplex -- was a regional K&N Pro Series East event in 2008.