“It was a hard decision,” said Cunningham, who along with partner Jerry Criswell bought the Ridgetop track in 2012.
“I guess it came down to one thing: my family,” Cunningham said. “I have two grandchildren and I want to spend more time with them and the rest of my family. Running a racetrack is a seven-day-a-week job. There’s something that needs doing every day, and I decided it was time to change my priorities.”
It was one of those ongoing projects that almost cost Cunningham his life. In the summer of 2014 he was high atop a cherry-picker, hanging flags at the track, when the machine topped over. Cunningham crashed to the asphalt, sustaining life-threating injuries. After a year of rehabilitation, he resumed his duties at the track.
“I’ve always loved racing, and Highland Rim is a special place for me,” Cunningham said. “I raced there for 16 years before I became a part owner. It has been a big part of my life, and I wish Jerry the best of luck with it in the future. I’ll do anything I can to help support it. I might even help out now and then on a volunteer basis.”
Cunningham said he decided to make the announcement now, instead of waiting until the end of the season, “in fairness to the fans and competitors.”
“There have been some rumors going around about the future of the track and I wanted to clear them up,” he said. “I want the fans and drivers to know that the track will be operating the rest of this season, next season, and hopefully far into the future.”
Several drivers are from Wilson County, including some who are in championship contention this season.
Cunningham’s daughter Kelli has played several key roles at the track, from public relations to front-office duties, and may stay on.
“She’s like me, she loves racing and loves Highland Rim Speedway,” Cunningham said. “Jerry plans to retain any of the staff that wants to stay.”
Kelli said she has not decided what her plans are, but shared her father’s sentiments about the track.
“It’s been a special place for my dad and me for many years,” she said. “It won’t be the same without him there.”
The quarter-mile racetrack, which opened in 1962, has gone through a series of owners over the decades. And, like many tracks around the country, it has struggled with attendance in recent years.
“I knew it would be a challenge going in,” Cunningham said. “Looking back I guess I under-estimated how tough it would be, and the work and time that would be required to keep it going. It’s especially demanding for me, having to commute daily from Mt. Juliet.
“But I don’t regret it. I’ve enjoyed it for the most part, and hopefully we’ve done some things that Jerry can build on for the future. I gave it all I had, and I still love it.”
NASCAR to Fairgrounds? Metro government officials recently met with representatives of Speedway Motorsports, Inc. to discuss the possibility of bringing NASCAR racing back to Nashville’s Fairgrounds Speedway.
SMI is exploring running some second- and third-tier races at the track, possibly in partnership with current lease holder Tony Formosa Jr.
The property and track are owned by Metro, which would have to approve any deal.
If some NASCAR races were brought back, the regular local racing schedule would probably continue unchanged. Several Wilson County drivers compete at the track.