While just about every amateur and professional sports event in the country has been sidelined due to the Coronavirus pandemic, Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway’s April 18 season opener is still scheduled.
Veterans Motorplex — formerly Highland Rim Speedway — was scheduled to kick off its season today, but on Thursday owner Jerry Criswell announced all the track’s racing has been cancelled until further notice.
Several Wilson County drivers compete at the two tracks, both of which draw a large percentage of their fans from this area.
“If they race, we’ll be there,” says Mt. Juliet’s Andy Johnson, a former Fairgrounds champion whose son Chase is one of the track’s rising young stars.
“Frankly, I expect the schedule to be cancelled eventually,” Johnson says, “but we’ll just have to wait and see.”
Another veteran Wilson County racer, Mike Brawley, is taking the same position.
“Right now, if they’re open, we’ll race,” says Brawley, who is retired from driving but assists son Austin with his Pro Late Model car at Fairgrounds Speedway.
Brawley admits the situation could change.
“If it (the pandemic) gets too bad, we won’t go,” he says. “We’ll play it by ear. If everything seems OK, we’ll race. If not, we won’t. I’m good to go either way.”
Ditto for Mt. Juliet’s Scott Fetcho, whose son Dylan is a top Fairgrounds driver:
“If they race, we’ll be there. We’re just an hour away, and don’t require much advance notice.”
Bob Sargent, whose Track Enterprises company is operating Fairgrounds Speedway this year, yesterday said the local races remain on as scheduled.
Earlier in the week ARCA announced it would not run its May 3 national-series race at the Fairgrounds. But Sargent says the local portion of the May 3 schedule is still on, as is the April 18 opener.
“It’s a day-to-day situation and we’ll continue to monitor it,” Sargent says.
NASCAR has cancelled all its races until at least May 9. Why don’t the local tracks do likewise?
Sargent says the logistics are completely different. The majority of NASCAR teams and fans travel long distances to each race. They have to plan far in advance for lodging, and encounter other travel-related expenses. Local drivers and fans do not.
For example: last week Dylan Fetcho was halfway to Atlanta for a race when it was abruptly cancelled. Meanwhile Fairgrounds Speedway is only an hour from his team’s racing shop.
One concern for local racers, aside from possible health risks, is sponsorships. Most teams depend on sponsorships for financing, and if there are no races there will be no sponsorships.
“That’s a big deal for us, because our sponsor is a restaurant,” Brawley says. “If its closed, we won’t have a sponsor, and if we don’t have a sponsor it will be hard to race. That’s just another question we can’t answer right now.”
Sargent says the safety of drivers and fans will be foremost in any decision he makes about proceeding with the schedule.
“If, by April 18 it is determined that there’s a serious health concern, we will re-evaluate,” he says.
“Since most of our competitors and fans come from the immediate area, we have a lot of flexibility. And with social media, we have the ability to quickly get the word out. We can make a last-minute change if we need to.”
Larry Woody is The Democrat’s motorsports writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.