Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Nashville Superspeedway Gets the Red Flag

Nashville Superspeedway, 2001-2011
Rather than thanking God for a "smokin' hot wife" before July's Federated Auto Parts 300, Pastor Joe Nelms should have prayed for a Sprint Cup race.

That's what it would have taken for Nashville Superspeedway to achieve long-term success. Instead, we have a white elephant among the cow pastures of Gladeville.

After 11 seasons, Dover Motorsports has decided that enough is enough. It is closing Nashville Superspeedway and will not be seeking NASCAR sanctioning for races in 2012.

Many will say the writing on the wall came when the IndyCar Series left in 2008, or when Kentucky Speedway got its first Sprint Cup race this year. Still others will say the track's demise is merely a casualty of declining NASCAR popularity, overall. While those are certainly factors, I will say this track was doomed from the start.

What could have been.
Dover Motorsports had grand plans to make this track a 150,000-seat NASCAR palace. It would be the only track on the NASCAR circuit to be over a mile long and paved in concrete (the other two concrete tracks are Bristol and Dover's flagship track in Delaware).
The track opened in 2001 with only a fraction of the permanent seats planned (by design), but without a then-Winston Cup race or the promise it would ever get one. In fact, NASCAR had stated multiple times that it had no desire to place a top tier race in Nashville, despite a long, rich history with motorsports and high ratings on TV. (As a compromise, the track was given Busch/Nationwide series dates on Cup-free weekends, in hopes to attract Cup-tier drivers to the track.) It was, and continued to be, the odd-track-out due to its proximity to Bristol, Talladega, Atlanta, and later, Kentucky...all within a 4 hour drive of Middle Tennessee.

Instead, Dover Motorsports took the Field of Dreams approach: "If you build it, they will come." They didn't. For 11 years, Dover went to NASCAR and applied for a Winston/NEXTEL/Sprint Cup race. Every time, they were denied. Dover also owned shorter tracks in Memphis and St. Louis that could not garner a Cup race, either.

Kentucky Speedway faced a similar dilemma in years past. It was also built in the middle of nowhere, 40 miles from the nearest major city (Cincinnati, Ohio), and fed the line about being too close to other tracks on the circuit (Bristol and Indianapolis). Kentucky's owners sued NASCAR for antitrust violations, and when they lost the case, sold the track to Speedway Motorsports, Inc. Speedway finally convinced NASCAR to allow it to move a race from its Atlanta track to its Kentucky track, so Kentucky finally got its holy grail last month (though it had its share of problems), in the midst of one of NASCAR's all-time attendance and TV ratings slumps.

So, with Nashville further trapped in the "you're too close to other tracks" argument, Dover has thrown in the towel. They're waving the white flag...but in this case, it's the white flag of surrender, not the signal that one lap remains. Ultimately, Dover could have saved this track if it had moved one of its two Dover Downs races to Nashville, but they thought the risk of losing a race in Delaware wasn't worth the reward of what they had to gain potentially in Nashville. In other words, they never believed in their own investment.

What does the future hold? Who knows, but it's not looking good. Dover wants to sell the facility, but there are only two other Sprint Cup track owners out there: Speedway Motorsports and International Speedway Corporation (which, itself, is an arm of NASCAR). You can bet ISC doesn't want any part of it, if all NASCAR has done for 11 years is brush aside the market. Speedway already owns Atlanta, Bristol, and Kentucky, and would stand to lose Nashville-area NASCAR fans at all three of those tracks while we remain in tough economic times when fans are not as likely to go to as many races as in years past. Besides, they don't have any other races that they'd want to move here. There were a lot of reasons not to move an Atlanta race to Kentucky, and there is no other race they'd likely be willing to move away from its current track. If they can't find a buyer, Dover may continue to allow teams to test at the track, but that was not addressed in today's announcement. What is known is that there will be no races in 2012.

It looks like Nashville Superspeedway simply blew its engine in the opening laps, and the race ended before it ever really began. But, as my friend Eric Shuff said, "At least it went out with a viral video..." Boogity, boogity, boogity. Amen.

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