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Local track owner Cunningham seriously injured

Larry Woody, Correspondent • Dec 17, 2015 at 7:00 PM

Roger Cunningham of Mt. Juliet remains hospitalized in serious but stable condition after being injured in an accident Saturday afternoon at Highland Rim Speedway, the Ridgetop racetrack he co-owns.

"His injuries are very serious, but my dad is a fighter and he'll come back from this," Cunningham's daughter Kelli Lawson said Monday. "We're asking folks to keep him in their prayers."

Cunningham was atop a cherry picker, placing flags on poles around the track in preparation for the night's races, when the machine toppled over. Cunningham fell 20-25 feet, breaking both legs, injuring his face and a hand, and suffering various internal injuries.

"The doctors have been repairing one injury at a time, in order of how critical each is," Lawson said. "He was placed in a medically-induced coma to control the pain."

Lawson was en route to the track, where she was scheduled to work that night, when she received a call about the accident. She arrived shortly afterwards, as her father was being placed aboard a life-flight helicopter to be taken to Vanderbilt Hospital.

Jerry Criswell, Cunningham's partner in the track, decided to proceed with the night's racing program after consulting with Lawson.

"My dad would have insisted on it," she said of the decision to go on with schedule. "For three years he has put his heart and soul into that racetrack, and he wouldn't have wanted the races canceled."

Cunningham and Criswell, along with a third partner, Buddy Williams, purchased the 52-year-old track in 2012. After extensive renovations they had it operating in time for a limited late-season schedule. This year marks the Speedway's second full season.

Williams dropped out of the partnership last year. Cunningham and Criswell said they were determined to hang in and try to make the track a success.

"It's been quite a project, and there have been times when I wondered if I might have bitten off more than I could chew," Cunningham said earlier this year. "But I love the sport of racing, this track has always been special to me, and I remain convinced that we can make a go of it."

Cunningham came up with a variety of creative promotions for the track, including a "Faster Pastor" race for some area ministers that attracted national attention.

Cunningham has always taken a hands-on approach to operating the track, and Lawson said his working atop a cherry picker "was typical of him. When there was work to be done, he'd roll up his sleeves and pitch in."

Lawson said doctors have put no timetable on when her father might recover from his extensive injuries, "but he will, eventually. It will be a long process, but my dad will be back."


Superspeedway silence: In May, when Hendersonville businessman Robb Sexton announced his purchase of Nashville Superspeedway from Dover Motorsports, he said he would reveal his plans for the Gladeville track in July.

July came and went, with no announcement.

Now, with August dwindling, Sexton's PR director Chris Goodrich said last week, "There is nothing new to report at this time."

Sexton said he intended to make the track a "multi-use facility" that would operate 52 weeks a year, and hoped to hold some events there this year.

Dover halted racing at the track in 2011 due to dwindling attendance. The track was occasionally leased to race teams for testing.

Racing insiders remain skeptical that the track will ever get a NASCAR Sprint Cup race, and Dover was unable to succeed with second- and third-tier Nationwide and truck races. Despite the track's troubled history, Sexton invested a reported $45.8 million to acquire it.

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