NASCAR and Dover Motorsports, Inc. confirmed today that the NASCAR Cup Series will return to Nashville Superspeedway next season; the first major league motorsports event to take place there in nearly a decade.
In its prime, the 1.33-mile concrete oval -- located approximately 35 miles southeast of Nashville in Lebanon, Tennessee – hosted four major race weekends each season, headlined by the NASCAR Xfinity and Truck Series, along with IndyCar.
While attendance was good early in its 20-year run, ticket sales plummeted dramatically in the late 2000s, prompting Dover Motorsports to close the gates in August of 2011. At least two subsequent attempts to sell the track fell through, with the property being used most recently as an automobile storage facility. The track has not been part of the NASCAR discussion for nearly a decade, until rumors of its resurrection began to circulate late yesterday. In fact, the legendary Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway – located in metropolitan Nashville – has dominated the headlines in recent weeks, with talk of it own return to the NASCAR calendar.
Why the Superspeedway, instead of the Fairgrounds?
The answer to that question is interesting and multi-faceted, and addresses needs both current and future.
Simply put, a return to the Fairgrounds track is not an option without major improvements and renovations to the facility. Those projects cannot be undertaken without a substantial infusion of public capital, and the purse strings are currently controlled by Nashville mayor John Cooper and the Fairgrounds Board; neither of whom have been willing to commit money to the track in the past.
|NSS has been silent for a decade.|
So the question is not, “Which Nashville track should we race at in 2021?”
The question is, “Do we want to race in Nashville next season or not?”
Dover International Speedway has underperformed in recent years from a revenue standpoint, selling far fewer tickets than they did even a decade ago. The reasons for that downturn are debatable, but the numbers are not. Dover Motorsports is a publicly held company, and coming back to the investors with a “business as usual” plan for 2021 would have been poorly received, to say the least.
Stockholders demanded change, and change is what they will have.
Dover Motorsports has always had the option to move races within its ownership portfolio, just as ISC/NASCAR and Speedway Motorsports, Inc. have done in the past.
The track known as “The Monster Mile” has downsized at least four times in recent years, beginning in the late 2000s when seating capacity was reduced from 140,000 to 113,000 seats. A second reduction in 2014 saw seating cut to 95,500, then 85,000 in 2016. Last year, seating was cut once again, to the track’s current capacity of 54,000.
Nashville Superspeedway currently has 50,000 permanent seats, meaning that Dover Motorsports is effectively swapping one 50,000-seat track for another.
Based on those numbers, there has to be more to the story.
|NASCAR will return in 2021.|
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, sources say that Dover Motorsports’ decision to roll Nashville Superspeedway out of mothballs was made at the behest of SMI, in an effort to convince mayor Cooper and the Fairgrounds Board -- once and for all -- of the value of motorsports in the Nashville market.
The hope is that when NASCAR returns, fans will support Nashville Superspeedway in large numbers, lighting a fire under the politicians to spend the money needed to bring racing back to Music City in a first-class fashion.
That plan, however, is not without its share of risk. If fans fail to respond favorably to NASCAR’s return to the Superspeedway, the message sent to local politicos will be overwhelmingly negative, potentially putting the future of the Fairgrounds oval in jeopardy.
It’s a gutsy ploy by both Dover Motorsports and SMI; one that we will be watching closely in the months to come.