Race Weekend Central

Voices From the Heartland: Fear & Loathing In Nashville, Tennessee

LEBANON, Tenn. – OK, so I have to admit, this title is a little misleading. Turns out I did not find any loathing this past weekend at Nashville Superspeedway – unless it was for the sun and super hot temperatures. But in speaking to plenty of people, from fans to those involved with the track what I did find was plenty of fear – fear this just might be Nashville’s last chance to host a NASCAR-sanctioned event.

As with most times when I cover a race for Frontstretch, I usually do it as a fan and a member of the media. That is to say, I arrive with my girlfriend and friends and then, when the time comes, I have to run off and leave them to do official media stuff. As such I, unlike other media folks who are just there to “cover” the race, end up spending a lot of time out and about amongst the fans themselves. And, as with any member of the media, I am always “eavesdropping.”

So from the moment I arrived, it was impossible to wander through the crowd without hearing bits and snippets of conversation that dealt with the fear that the track was closing. And, when studying the issue a little closer, it’s a fear that may not be unfounded.

Let’s face it: Dover Motorsports, the owners of Nashville Superspeedway, do not have a very good track record when it comes to speedway management in midsize American cities. As evidence, I present… Exhibit A) The closing of Memphis Motorsports Park in duh! Memphis in 2009 paired with Exhibit B) the closing of Gateway International Raceway the following year. I’m not blaming anyone specific, but the history is clear; they’re shutting down smaller, shorter tracks that can and have produced some very fine racing.

So in light of all the fear, I thought I might take a different angle in my media endeavors and, instead of interviewing a lot of famous racers, ask a few questions of those behind the scenes and supposedly in the know. That first opportunity came in the form of Gary Camp, Director of Communications for both Dover and Nashville superspeedways.

“We’re moving forward like normal,” Camp said, when I asked him to address the fan’s concerns about the future. “We’re planning for events in 2012, trying to do anything we can to get butts in the seats and get more fans to come and see races here at Nashville Superspeedway.”

When it comes to “butts in the seats,” it is hard to determine just how that count is taken. Official track count was 18,000 for Saturday, but some said a more accurate count would be more like a paltry 4,000. 18,000 does seem a bit high to me: perhaps that “butt count” included each cheek? When it comes to anything NASCAR, numbers are always suspect.

“We are not alone in this softness in attendance,” said Camp, acknowledging the large number of empty seats. “It has affected all NASCAR tracks, so we are just working hard to get people out here and are optimistic that 2012 will be an improvement on 2011 and we’ll get this ship turned around and headed in the right direction.”

Camp said that in addition to the two NASCAR weekends, the track also has a steady revenue stream from different groups renting the track out and from a “driving school” that operates out of the facility itself. He also said that sponsorship has been good and that there are no real concerns in that area.

Or is there? One little thing that I think bears mentioning, a thing that I heard brought up by many different fans, was the lack of vendor trailers at the race. I have to admit, of all the standalone Nationwide or even Camping World Truck Series races I have been to, the selection was the smallest I have ever seen.

As one might expect, I didn’t really expect Mr. Camp to come right out and tell me that “yes, the fan’s fears do have merit.” He is, after all, a corporate guy and is expected to toe the company line if he expects to remain so. I’m not saying he is lying or anything, but still, I thought maybe another angle may be insightful so I talked with legendary artist Sam Bass. (More with Sam Bass to come in the future!)

Sam, as many of you know, is the artist who paints the Gibson guitars that Nashville has become legendary for handing out as trophies. Approximately 150 man hours goes into the painting of each guitar, so I asked Sam if he planned on getting a head start for next year.

“We’ve talked about next year, all plans are to go… I mean, the economy is down for everybody right now, there’s a lot of businesses closing, a lot of different things going on that nobody ever dreamed would happen but as far as I know, as we’re sitting here right now, they’ll be racing in Nashville for a long time to come,” he said. “I haven’t heard one thing about this track going away and I’m planning on doing guitar trophies for this track for a long time.”

So, there you have it; somewhere between cautiously optimistic and a full guarantee. I can only tell you this much for certain: last weekend was my first time at Nashville Superspeedway and, like many fans, I hope it is not my last. Despite the assurances of Gary Camp and Sam Bass, one must take into account the history of Dover Motorsports and given that history, if I were Carl Edwards, I wouldn’t auction off my latest Gibson Trophy just yet (as he did for charity with his last one). This year’s edition just may be the last one issued.

I certainly hope not.

Stay off the wall,

Jeff Meyer

About the author

The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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