“You either love Nashville or you’re wrong … ”
… or so they say.
But I mean, what is there not to love about Nashville? After all, it’s the city where future county music stars and NASCAR stars make names for themselves.
Although the NASCAR Cup Series will be visiting the Nashville Superspeedway this weekend for just the third time in history, many newer race fans might be surprised that Nashville’s racing roots are deep. In fact, those roots go back almost all the way to the creation of the automobile.
The 1904 Horseless Carriage race entertained wide-eyed fans as nearly 60 examples of this new-fangled technology sweeping the nation thundered past them on a small dirt oval course near Nashville’s city center. They marveled at speed and danger as the horseless carriages top out at blistering speeds of 60 mph.
Nashville’s love affair with racecars quickly grew. To promote the 1915 Tennessee State Fair, officials invited the cars and stars of the blossoming Indianapolis 500 to compete on a refurbished dirt oval on the fairground’s property. The event was such a success that racing became an annual event, and the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway subsequently flourished.
An adjacent paved track was built in the 1950s in an attempt to draw a relatively new sanctioning body that was quickly flourishing across the south: NASCAR. And attract they did. In 1958, NASCAR signed an agreement to hold races in Nashville for 10 years, with future champion Rex White taking its first checkered flag in 1959.
The agreement ultimately lasted until 1984, when the Cup Series abandoned the agreement following squabbles with local government bureaucracy.
However, during that impressive span, the city of Nashville and the speedway became prominent not just for its national recognition through NASCAR, but also for it’s vivacious local racing. The racing scene allowed local drivers throughout the Music City to cut their teeth on a professional racing track in front of a rather large audience.
Bobby Hamilton, Sterling Marlin (along with his father Coo Coo Marlin), Jimmy Means and Mike Alexander were prominent figures in the Music City racing scene before they ever made it to the big stage of NASCAR. As a renowned country music singer and entertainer, Marty Robbins was already prominent in Nashville (and the entire country for that matter). But when Robbins wanted to become a racecar driver, he went to the Fairgrounds.
His iconic and eye-catching yellow and purple car became a fixture in Nashville too. Later, he took it to NASCAR, where he competed primarily on the big superspeedways.
But there was no greater racing icon to come out of Nashville than Darrell Waltrip. Originally from Kentucky, the brash young Waltrip moved to Nashville not to pursue his dream of standing behind a microphone of a packed arena (although he ultimately did … in a way), but to pursue a racing dream.
Waltrip ultimately won two track championships that propelled him into the spotlight and into a career that garnered three Cup championships and Hall of Fame honors. Even though his days as a racer are in the rearview mirror, Waltrip is still active in Music City racing as a current resident of suburban Nashville.
Once NASCAR left the Fairgrounds track, there were still plenty of engine roars to be heard there. The All-American 400 quickly blossomed into a famed annual late-model race that draws in short track stars from around the country. Several future NASCAR drivers were victorious in the race, including Chase Elliott, John Hunter Nemechek, Jeff Purvis and Daniel Hemric.
The ARCA Menards Series still has ties to the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway as Wisconsin-native short track standout Luke Fenhouse took home his first career victory there in the East Series last month. ASA, the Hooters Pro Cup Series, the CARS Super Late Model Tour, SRX, and several other notable sanctioning bodies have called the Nashville track home at one point or another across the last several decades.
Seeing that there was still a large appetite for racing, Dover Motorsports built the new Nashville Superspeedway in suburban Nashville in 2001, which drew back NASCAR. The 1.33-mile concrete oval began hosting NASCAR Xfinity Series and NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series events. IndyCar became a tenant, as the open-wheel series hosted across eight seasons in the 2000s.
Back on the NASCAR side, Carl Edwards quickly became the dominant star at the circuit, capturing a total of six victories. But as the 2010s hit, the series abandoned the track in 2011, and it sat relatively dormant.
But when NASCAR was shopping around for a new city to host its annual awards banquet and championship celebration, the Music City quickly became a hotbed for stock car racing once again. In 2019, NASCAR ultimately elected to host the banquet in the city, which again prompted calls for racing’s return.
In 2021, the Nashville Superspeedway was added to the Cup schedule, with Kyle Larson taking home the inaugural victory in front of a sold-out crowd. His Hendrick Motorsports teammate Elliott followed suit with a victory of his own a year later.
The duo is poised to be among the favorites for the third edition of this race. The weekend is set to be another historic one for the city of Nashville as it unofficially celebrates its 120th year of racing.
About the author
Never at a loss for words, Zach Gillispie is a young, talented marketing professional from North Carolina who talks and writes on the side about his first love: racing! Since joining Frontstretch in 2018, Zach has served in numerous roles where he currently pens the NASCAR 101 column, a weekly piece delving into the basic nuts and bolts of the sport. Additionally, his unabashedly bold takes meshed with that trademarked dry wit of his have made Zach a fan favorite on the weekly Friday Faceoff panel. In his free time, he can be found in the great outdoors, actively involved in his church, cheering on his beloved Atlanta Braves or ruthlessly pestering his colleagues with completely useless statistics about Delma Cowart.
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