Letter Of Intent Signed For Nashville Fairgrounds Upgrades

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Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway will host an eclectic mix of racing divisions throughout the 2021 season. (Jack Kessler Photo)
A formal letter of intent has been signed to renovate Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway. (Jack Kessler Photo)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Nashville Mayor John Cooper announced Friday that he has signed a letter of intent to perform major renovations at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway in an effort to bring NASCAR back to the historic facility.

The agreement was made with Bristol Motor Speedway, which is owned by Speedway Motorsports Inc. SMI, led by CEO Marcus Smith, has been working towards bringing NASCAR back to Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway for the last few years.

Smith, two-time Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Bristol Motor Speedway Executive Vice President and General Manager Jerry Caldwell were present when Mayor Cooper signed the agreement.

Subject to approval by the Board of Fair Commissioners and Metropolitan Council, Bristol Motor Speedway would have a long-term contract to lease, manage, and operate Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway, as well as assume financial responsibility for track renovations and ongoing maintenance.

“The goal of the partnership is to bring our historic racetrack back to life as a valuable and exciting part of the Fairgrounds,” said Mayor Cooper. “We have an obligation to maintain the track, so it is smart for Nashville to engage a strong, long-term partner from the auto racing industry to operate it successfully. The business terms in this LOI protect Nashville, with multiple revenue streams to make this a financial success. We can put this landmark back on the national stage. I look forward to working with the Fair Board and the Metro Council in the months ahead.”

“We can work together to transform Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway into an amazing multipurpose entertainment destination,” said Smith.  “We’re ready to roll up our sleeves and go to work to fully restore the speedway, recruit national events and breathe new life into a venue that has a legendary status in auto racing history.”

Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway hosted 42 NASCAR Cup Series events from 1958 to 1984, with Geoff Bodine winning the last Cup Series event held at the .959-mile oval in 1984. The venue has continued to host short-track racing through the years, including the All American 400.

Most recently Track Enterprises, led by Bob Sargent, has promoted weekly racing at the track after agreeing to a contract with the Metro Fair Board in late 2019.

Last December officials from Metro Nashville and SMI formally announced that the two sides were in negotiations to bring NASCAR back to Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway. In that announcement it was revealed that, should a deal be reached, NASCAR could return as early as 2022.

Key terms of the letter of intent, signed late Thursday by Mayor Cooper and Smith, include:

  • Metro would issue no more than $50 million in bonds for racetrack renovations, as is already specified in the Capital Improvements Budget. Debt service and project-related expenses would be fully covered by revenues generated from racing and non-racing event activities held at the track, including lease payments, and taxes and fees generated by track event patrons.
  • Under a lease and management agreement, BMS would pay Metro an annual lease payment for track management and operations and share a percentage of revenues from events.  Additionally, for four weeks a year, BMS would lease all Fairgrounds property (except for the MLS stadium and commercial developments) for $1 million annually to host major racing events.
  • BMS, which possesses decades of major auto racing design, construction, and operations experience, would serve as development manager for track and facility renovations. Improvements would include safety upgrades, spectator amenities, and new ancillary facilities for both racing and non-racing experiences.
  • Noise mitigation would be an integral part of the redesign and track improvements.
  • BMS is committed to an extensive community engagement process with neighborhood residents and Nashville organizations.
  • The new operating model for the speedway will provide the neighborhoods around the track with schedule certainty so residents know in advance when racing and practice will occur.
  • BMS will renovate the race track to meet NASCAR safety and design standards necessary to host national series events and modernize NFS as a multi-function facility for non-racing special events to generate tourism-related revenue that is healthy for Nashville.