Nov 26, 2021 - News

Scoop: Cooper reaches deal in principle likely to bring NASCAR back to Nashville

Four NASCAR cars zoom down the track the Nashville International Raceway on the Tennessee State Fairgrounds in Nashville, Tennessee in a 1981 race.

A 1981 NASCAR race at the Nashville International Raceway on the Tennessee State Fairgrounds. Photo: David Allio/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Nashville Mayor John Cooper and Bristol Motor Speedway have reached a deal in principle to completely renovate the city's 117-year-old fairgrounds racetrack and allow top-series NASCAR Cup racing to return to the historic venue, a source familiar with the deal tells Axios.

Why it matters: Cooper and BMS signed a letter of intent earlier this year and have been engaged in talks on the financing and operations details for months.

  • Details of the agreement will likely be unveiled in the coming days. The annual NASCAR awards take place in Nashville on Dec. 2.
  • The city of Nashville hasn't hosted a NASCAR race of any sort since 2000 and the top series hasn't raced here since 1984.

Context: The state legislature supports the project and passed a bill earlier this year to allow for the creation of a user fee on tickets to races and other events at the track.

  • Rent payments from Bristol and revenue from that fee will help finance the renovation project. A portion of sales tax collections will also be diverted to help pay for the renovation.
  • The fair board must recommend approval or rejection to the Metro Council. With the agreement in place, the renovation plan would be on track to be approved by the end of the year.
  • The fairgrounds racetrack has been a hot-button political topic in Nashville for over a decade. In 2011, voters approved a ballot measure effectively preserving the track after then-Mayor Karl Dean's failed attempt to demolish it in favor of redevelopment.

The big picture: A renovated racetrack will combine with the new Nashville SC soccer stadium, the surrounding mixed use development and new fairgrounds buildings to completely remake the 117-acre property.

  • Early in his tenure, Cooper struck a revised development agreement with the soccer team's ownership group to allow for the racetrack to be connected through a new courtyard to the soccer stadium development, which is on track to finish construction early next year.
  • A Cooper spokesperson tells Axios "the administration continues to have good discussions about revitalizing the historic speedway at no cost to the city's general fund." Bristol declined to comment through a spokesperson.

Between the lines: Bristol Motor Speedway's parent company, Speedway Motorsports Inc., has cornered the region's racing market. SMI recently reached a deal to acquire Dover Motorsports, which owns the Nashville Superspeedway in Wilson County just outside of city limits.

  • That deal gives SMI 15 NASCAR Cup races and the flexibility to add the fairgrounds race to the calendar once the renovation is complete.
  • Support for auto racing has shown momentum in Nashville. The Superspeedway race in nearby Wilson County sold out earlier this year, and the IndyCar Music City Grand Prix drew 110,000 fans.

Yes, but: The racetrack renovation project has faced skepticism from some neighbors worried about noise and traffic.

  • Bristol has promised a sound wall and other noise mitigation efforts, as well as fewer races and practice runs than held there in the past.
  • The company has also vowed to guarantee neighbors a racing schedule so that residents know when the track will be in use.

The bottom line: Though the details aren't finalized, it's all but certain that a redeveloped track will herald the return of NASCAR to Nashville.


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