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What’s next – if anything – for Nashville Superspeedway?

Larry Woody, Correspondent • Updated Jul 26, 2013 at 9:21 PM

What do you do with a racetrack that has no races?

That’s the question confronting Dover Motorsports as it ponders the fate and future of Nashville Superseedway.

Last week Dover announced that it will seek no future NASCAR races for the Gladeville track it built and opened in 2001. Dover officials said they will consider all options, including selling the track.

But selling the track, which has a reported value of $50 million, won’t be easy. The 1,400 Dover-owned acres around the track are valuable real estate and would likely go quickly if put on the market. But the racetrack itself could be a hard sell.

“Why would anybody want the track if there’s no racing on it?” says Terrell Davis, editor of an area racing publication. “If Dover, with its decades of NASCAR experience, couldn’t make it work, why would anybody else think they could take it over and make it a success?”

Gary Baker, a Nashville attorney who once operated NASCAR tracks in Nashville and Bristol, agreed. But although the prospects of holding future races are dismal, Baker said the Superspeedway might be turned into an R&D facility and a test track to be used by the numerous automotive plants that have sprung up in Middle Tennessee.

The track also could be used for team testing if it holds no races in any of the three touring series (Sprint Cup, Nationwide, truck series.). Before NASCAR banned such use two years ago, renting the Superspeedway to teams for testing provided substantial income.

As far as ever living up to Dover’s original dream as a big-time sports venue, however, that’s not likely to happen.

Bruton Smith, head of Speedway Motorsports Inc., checked out the Superspeedway for potential purchase at one point. Instead he opted to buy Kentucky Speedway, which earlier this season held its first Cup race.

During its 11 seasons of operation the Superspeedway never drew well. Even its announced “capacity” crowds for Indy Racing League races were misleading; a sizable portion of the grandstand (several rows of seats closest to the track) were blocked off during IRL races due to safety concerns.

Some drivers complained that the relatively flat, 1.3 mile concrete oval was not conducive to close racing. The track acquired a reputation for less-than-exciting racing and that contributed to its attendance problems.

Tracks that host stand-alone Nationwide and/or truck races may face even greater attendance challenges in the future. NASCAR this season prohibited Cup drivers from contending for the Nationwide or truck championship, so there’s less incentive for the superstars to run the lower-tier races.

The apparent demise of the Superspeedway, combined with a vote of support for Nashville’s Fairgrounds Speedway in last week’s Metro election, fanned hopes that the 53-year-old Fairgrounds track might secure one of the lost Nationwide or truck races.

NASCAR president Mike Helton, when asked about that possibility, said: “We are going to take it one step at a time at this juncture. We just recently learned about a situation involving a track where we’ve raced for 10 years. We’ll look at all of our options.”

In order for the Fairgrounds to host a NASCAR race, safer-barrier walls would have to be installed around the track, in addition to other expensive renovations. Track promoter Bobby Hamilton Jr. said those upgrades, along with NASCAR sanction fees, would require an approximate $4 million investment.

Others, including Baker, put the estimate much higher. It is doubtful that a private-sector investment will be made without a long-term lease, and Metro officials have indicated they won’t grant one. That stalemate makes NASCAR’s return to the Fairgrounds unlikely.

Professional automobile racing has been a fixture in Middle Tennessee since the first recorded race at the Fairgrounds in 1904. When the final engine died following the Superspeedway’s July 23 race, an era may have died with it.

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