SBD/August 4, 2011/Facilities

Nashville Superspeedway's Future In Jeopardy After Dropping NASCAR Events

Nashville track had hosted NASCAR events since its inception in '01
The “financially troubled” parent company of Nashville Superspeedway, Dover Motorsports, yesterday announced that it will not seek to host NASCAR-sanctioned races at the track in ’12, “effectively ending its operation as a racing facility,” according to Tom Kreager of the Nashville TENNESSEEAN. The track opened in ’01 and “has been host to NASCAR Nationwide Series and Camping World Truck Series events since its inception.” It also “has held IndyCar and Indy Light races through 2008.” The announcement “came 11 days after the Superspeedway held its second of two NASCAR doubleheader race weekends,” at which time “speculation of a grim future for the track began when once again it failed to sell enough tickets to fill the 25,000 seats.” Track VP & GM Cliff Hawks yesterday said that “not having a Sprint Cup race in a NASCAR-crazed market doomed the track’s ability to have success.” Kreager notes NASCAR racing “of some ilk has been a part of the Middle Tennessee sports landscape since 1958.” The track “has some rental agreements in place it plans to keep through October.” Hawks said that “after that, the track will be winterized, which is normal.” Hawks: “Then the question becomes if someone will buy the race track.” Dover Motorsports’ closure of the track is the “third such financial move by the company within the past three years.” It “closed and subsequently sold Memphis Motorsports Park” in ’09, and last year “closed Gateway International Raceway in Madison Ill., just east of St. Louis.” Kreager notes shortly after the announcement, the track “reduced its website to one page, carrying the announcement under the heading, ‘Thanks for all the Memories!’” (Nashville TENNESSEAN, 8/4). NASCAR officials “did not say where those Nationwide and Truck Series races could be relocated next year” (SCENEDAILY.com, 8/3).

BLAMING THE ECONOMY: Dover Motorsports President & CEO Denis McGlynn said the economy "basically just caught up to us" regarding Nashville Superspeedway. He said, "When we made the decision back in the late ‘90s to go forward with (the) project, NASCAR and the economy (were) in a very different place than it is today. At the end of the ‘90s in the Nationwide Series, (Dale) Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth and the Burton brothers were just tearing up the series. They were filling the racetracks wherever they went.” McGlynn added people "expected NASCAR to continue expanding, and it was logical to expect that some increase in status for the Nationwide Series would be part of that because the Cup series could only accommodate so many events.” However, he cited several factors for the downturn in fortunes for the track, including the death of Dale Earnhardt Sr. at the '01 Daytona 500, the “big dotcom bubble break" and the ’02 recession. He also noted the "many, many years where there was a lot of change in NASCAR” was a “big turning point.” McGlynn: "With our customers being working people, the unfortunate reality is they’re not working right now and they’re not buying tickets" ("NASCAR Now," ESPN2, 8/3).

TAXPAYERS NOT ON THE HOOK: In Nashville, Duane Marsteller cites local officials as saying that Dover Motorsports’ decision to “let the facility go dark won’t leave taxpayers on the hook for a remaining $21 million in outstanding bond debt issued 12 years ago when the speedway was first developed.” A Winslow County sports authority is “using sales and property tax revenues generated by the track to pay for the bonds.” Dover "also was required to maintain a credit line -- currently from PNC Bank -- to cover bond payments in case tax revenues fell short." County Finance Dir Aaron Maynard said, "There's no financial obligation on (government's) part." A legal expert said that even if Dover Motorsports were to "file for bankruptcy -- and that hasn't been discussed -- the chances are 'extremely low' that the bonds wouldn't be paid off" (Nashville TENNESSEEAN, 8/4).

RETURN TO THE ROCK?
ESPN.com's David Newton noted the closure of Nashville Superspeedway could open the door for other tracks to host a Nationwide and Truck event, and Rockingham Speedway in North Carolina was the "overwhelming choice to host one or both of NASCAR's lower series" among respondents on Twitter. Rockingham "hasn't hosted a Sprint Cup or Nationwide race since 2004." It "remains the track's goal to host a Nationwide or Truck event, but the addition of SAFER barriers at a cost of about $1 million will have to come first" (ESPN.com, 8/3).
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