For a time during the late 1990s and early 2000s, Memphis Int’l Raceway was considered one of the hidden gems of the racing world.
However, when a lack of finances forced the facility to close at the end of 2009, it became a forgotten treasure that was lost amid the shuffle for most of the last decade.
New track president and longtime motorsports communications guru Tim Packman is trying to change that and bring Memphis back to its former glory within the auto racing landscape.
Packman, who had most recently promoted New York’s Lancaster National Speedway, was looking for an opportunity to head back south of the Mason-Dixon Line and found it with a call from IRG Sports + Entertainment.
“I had a three-year agreement with Lancaster and about halfway through the third year, I found myself longing to get back into NASCAR like I was before,” Packman told SPEED SPORT. “I wanted to head back down south and I started talking with a few people down in that direction.
“Out of the blue, I got a call from IRG Sports + Entertainment, the parent company at Memphis … asking if I’d want to come and work there, and I told them I love the area and that I would definitely be interested,” he added. “I had come there in the past for Truck Series and Xfinity Series races, not to mention I’m a big Elvis (Presley) fan. I felt pretty strongly about it.”
Even during those early conversations, Packman knew his task at Memphis wasn’t going to be an easy one.
However, getting the OK to move back down south was much simpler than he anticipated.
“I came down, met with them and they laid out what they wanted,” Packman recalled. “Immediately, I told myself that it was going to be a challenge, but I’d been through it once before and felt like it was reasonable. I took some time to think about it, and then in the middle of the night I woke up out of bed, turned to my fiancée and said, ‘Hey.’
“She looked back at me and said, ‘Yeah, I know, we’re going to Memphis,’” he laughed. “Now, here we are.”
Upon his arrival, Packman’s first goal was quickly established. He wanted to restore the facility’s high-banked oval track to its former luster.
“It was breaking my heart that this beautiful three-quarter-mile oval was just sitting here and only being used once for a K&N race and then for a few driving schools,” explained Packman. “I used my contacts, made a couple phone calls and by the end of PRI we had tripled the productivity of the oval track just like that.
“It was one of those things that made people wake up and go, ‘What the heck is Memphis doing?’” Packman added. “One of my friends said it best; he just started telling everyone that Tim’s in town.”
Before Packman’s arrival, the oval track at Memphis was only holding one race a year, a NASCAR K&N Pro Series East date during the middle of the summer.
Packman secured the USAC Silver Crown Series opener in March and the CRA Master of the Pros event for pro late models in July, adding two major events to the speedway calendar.
“The three-quarter-mile oval … like I said, when I got here, it was only being used once a year,” Packman noted. “Within 45 days, we had booked two additional events to bring it to three, and that was one of my earliest goals here, was to bring more action to our three-quarter-mile oval. To have a CRA event of this magnitude and a major USAC event is a big step in that direction.
“We look forward to some incredible racing from the drivers and teams who will make their way to Memphis this year. Even more so, we look forward to the economic impact of both late model and open-wheel fans traveling from out of state for these races,” Packman continued. “It’s a great opportunity for the Memphis business community to join us for these prestigious events.
“Memphis is the place to rock and now it is on its way to being the place to race again.”