Nashville Fairgrounds Render
Image from Bristol Motor Speedway.

Metro Nashville Consultant Finds Fairgrounds Speedway in Disrepair

After years of financial neglect, Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway requires extensive renovation to improve safety and operational success, according to a detailed facility analysis conducted by a leading motorsports venue consultant. The analysis, prepared for the Metro Board of Fair Commissioners, recommends a long list of improvements for driver and fan safety, ADA compliance, and modernization features, at a cost of more than $40 million.

The independent assessment, prepared by Driven International and procured by Metro Government, identifies numerous projects that require immediate attention due to safety concerns. Recommendations include resurfacing the track and pit areas; rebuilding and expanding the track’s outside barrier and catch fence; and installing a modern SAFER barrier system.

Beyond the safety needs, the consultants urge modernization of the facility to address outdated hospitality and patron experiences, stating “… the concessions and restrooms have not been updated in many years, and ADA compliance generally across the venue is considered to be lackluster. Overall, the Fairgrounds is a much-loved and historic speedway in a great central location but needs repair and modernization in several key areas if it is to function well across the next 30 years.”

Mayor John Cooper has proposed a long-term partnership agreement for Bristol Motor Speedway (BMS) to renovate, lease, manage, and operate the historic speedway, the second-oldest operating racetrack in the country. The speedway and auto racing are protected ongoing uses by the Metro Charter.
If approved by the Metro Council, the lease agreement would shift the full $40 million backlog of capital projects and future maintenance costs away Nashville taxpayers and make them the responsibility of BMS.

“Fairgrounds Speedway is a rich part of Nashville’s history and should be preserved to meet our Metro Charter obligation to operate the track and to fully complete the comprehensive renovation of the Fairgrounds,” said Councilman Zach Young, legislative sponsor for the Bristol proposal.

“Metro may have saved money through the years by not spending to keep the speedway in good shape, though the consultant’s report clearly shows that it was an irresponsible way to manage a city-owned asset and that taxpayers now have a big bill due. I favor the long-term lease agreement with Bristol because we put an industry-best operator in charge to take responsibility for the backlog of costs and maintain this great place for years to come.”

The proposal funds renovations and ongoing maintenance of the track without requiring any investment from the city’s budget or general obligation debt. Metro Sports Authority would be asked to issue revenue bonds to finance speedway renovations. Annual guaranteed rent payments by Bristol, user fees, sales taxes from venue patrons, sponsorship and other event revenues would be used to repay the bonds.

“Fairgrounds Speedway is hallowed ground for both Nashville and NASCAR,” said Bristol Motor Speedway president Jerry Caldwell. “The recommendations in this report verify that there’s a lot of work to be done, especially to host NASCAR again in the future. We’re ready to roll up our sleeves and get to work.”

Highest-priority requirements for the track’s safety and operational success include:

  1. Multilayered resurfacing of the entire speedway, including the pit road area, all of which is badly deteriorated.
  2. Assessment of and upgrades to the track’s drainage systems, particularly in areas of high groundwater.
  3. Construction of new catch fencing at several crucial locations along the track.
  4. Construction of a new barrier wall, using SAFER technology, to protect drivers in the event of an incident on the course.
  5. Upgraded and renovated medical facilities for drivers and for patrons.
  6. Addition of attenuators at the ends of concrete walls along the track. (Currently this purpose is served by unsecured industrial tires.)
  7. Construction of a 20-foot sound-mitigating barrier wall encircling the track, and ongoing noise monitoring and mitigation.
  8.  Replacement of the incoming water supply, to allow for infield amenities such as participant showers and more toilets for spectators.

Additional improvements were recommended to modernize and improve the overall fan experience at the track, which hasn’t been updated in four decades. These include:

  1. Structural and cosmetic improvements to the grandstands, including repairs to deteriorating staircases and replacement of aged seating.
  2. Replacing the small, poorly lit scoreboard, with a state-of-the-art digital scoreboard capable of displaying more track information and providing advertising opportunities.
  3. Addition/improvement to ADA-compliant access to the facility, including ingress/egress and parking; restroom upgrades; re-graded ramp access; a new ADA-compliant track-viewing area; and enhanced, multimodal wayfinding strategies and signage.
  4. Overall improvements to on-site parking, and campus ingress/egress.
  5. Upgraded concessions areas, with enhanced food and beverage options, remodeled restrooms, and an overall improved fan experience under the grandstand. Concessions improvements could include dedicated space for food trucks.
  6. Replacement of the flood-prone Turn 3 tunnel, which currently is too small to accommodate larger vehicles that need to access the infield.
  7. Renovations and remodeling of the offices and VIP areas above the grandstands, in order to accommodate enhanced hospitality and create premium meeting spaces that could drive future rental revenue.

The BMS partnership has strong public support. Three out of four likely primary voters who live within one mile of the Nashville Fairgrounds and two-thirds of those surveyed across Davidson County support the proposed agreement for Bristol to lease and renovate the historic Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway, according to a recently completed poll from Hart Research.

Those who live closest to the Fairgrounds express the highest support, with 76 percent favoring shifting the current taxpayer burden of speedway maintenance, operation and capital investment to Bristol, a private operator. A whopping 80 percent of supporters say they favor plans to include a state-of-the-art sound-absorption wall at the facility to reduce noise flow to the surrounding neighborhoods.

More information is available at restorenashvillefairgroundsspeedway.com.

— Bristol Motor Speedway —