“America’s Favorite Short Track” Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway
STORY AND PHOTOS BY SPENCER HILL
Just minutes away from the buzzing neon lights of Broadway in downtown Nashville, Tennessee lies the second oldest continually operating racetrack in the United States. Through its 119-year history, Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway has earned its title from adoring fans as “America’s Favorite Short Track.”
As you approach the speedway, you might be surprised at its location with housing all around, a new state-of-the-art soccer stadium shadowing turn 4 and a creek running parallel to the back straightaway. Although this is unusual for most short tracks that are still in operation today, it helps tell the story of the historic facility that first hosted “horseless carriages” and motorcycles in 1904 on a massive 1 1/8th mile dirt oval.
After many years of holding annual motor racing events to coincide with the Tennessee State Fair, racers received a 10-year lease from the fair board in 1957 in order to revamp the track and build a paved ½ mile oval with a smaller ¼ mile oval in the infield, sharing a front stretch. This would bring the NASCAR Grand National Series to Nashville for the first time in 1958, with Joe Weatherly winning the 200-lap race and $1850.
The speedway continued to boom in the 60s with frequent appearances from the “Alabama Gang,” Coo Coo Marlin and Darrell Waltrip. The featured divisions would make the move to the big track when lights were strung around the ½ mile in 1965. With additional success from added figure 8 and Tuesday night events, the track grew slightly longer, increased to 35 degrees of banking and acquired new grandstands after the 1969 season. This was short-lived however as the increased banking created dangerous speeds and track officials were forced to cut it down to 18 degrees shortly thereafter.
NASCAR made a departure from the fairgrounds in 1984 after multiple disputes with track management and the city of Nashville. Luckily, their new headliner, the Late Model Stock Car division, caught the eyes of future stars like Sterling Marlin, Bill Elliott, Dale Earnhardt and more which kept the short track alive and well until NASCAR made a short return with the Busch and Truck Series in 1995 before those events made the move to the freshly formed Nashville Super Speedway in 2001.
With NASCAR again vacating the historic fairgrounds, the speedway went through a name change and encountered many struggles in the mid-to-late 2000s. The newly named “Music City Motorplex” had arguably its hardest year in 2009 when it lost its scheduled ARCA race to Mansfield and was forced to cancel its largest race of the year, the All American 400. It wasn’t until the 2012 season when the prestigious All American 400 made a return but the event has since returned to its glory it once had since the first race won by Butch Lindley in 1981. Every year, the best late model drivers in the world circle the All American 400 on their calendar and consider the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway race as a crown jewel event in the same category as the Snowball Derby in Pensacola, Florida.
Most recently, many of the drivers that have their eye on winning the All American 400 in 2023 participated in the North/South 100 Super Late Model race at Nashville Fairgrounds; the final tune up before the biggest race of the year. For the first half of the race, it seemed as if the defending All American champion, Stephen Nasse, was going to pick up another win on his season until pressure came from the 2019 track champion, Jackson Boone. Boone was on his way to his first-career super late model victory until heartbreak struck and a radiator hose blew on the No. 7 machine, bringing him to a stop on lap 92. The restart would relinquish the lead to 18-year-old NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series driver, Jake Garcia, who would hold off for his first late model triumph at Nashville.
The Fairgrounds has gone through many turbulent changes since 1904, but still to this day drivers and fans understand the importance of the speedway and the legacy that it has written in over a century of competition. With the North/South 100 in the books, all eyes and preparation point toward November 3rd-5th at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway as we wait in anticipation to see who will be the 39th winner of the All American 400.