Loud Music is a $40 Fine

Just my personal blog.

December 28, 2006

Music City Motorplex

Not sure why the “big” newspaper in Nashville didn’t have anything on this, but The City Paper reported on the 21st of December that the speedway at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds, currently known as Music City Motorplex, has changed hands to some extent. By March, a new company will own 80% of the company that now runs the track.

Actually, saying “Music City Motorplex has been sold” is somewhat of an incorrect statement. The track is owned by the city of Nashville. The Fair Board, those folks who cost the city a Winston Cup race in 1984, controls who manages (or in some cases in the past, who mismanages) the track.

In 1995, the management of the track was handed over to Bob Harmon, one of the pioneers of the track promotion business. He used his contacts at NASCAR to bring in a Busch Series race and shortly thereafter a Craftsman Truck Series race. Through his leadership, the track’s premier Late Model division easily averaged 35 cars every Saturday night.

Harmon (and the track) was a victim of his own success. In 1998, Harmon sold his ownership interest to Dover Downs Motorsports, the folks who run Dover International Speedway. Their only interest in the track was to get the two major NASCAR races for the 1.33 mile track they planned to (and ultimately did) build in Wilson County, a little east of Nashville.
Once the big track opened in 2001, their lack of interest in running a short track quickly showed, and the quality of racing suffered for it. The track lease changed hands again, this time to a group of folks led by Dennis Grau. Grau came from the sponsorship end of things, and really had no experience running a race track.

And again, that lack of experience showed. The first thing he did was change the name of the track from Nashville Speedway USA to Fairgrounds Speedway at Nashville. He had some big ideas, and some good ideas, but a national scandal involving a female race driver being, in effect, harassed by the male drivers, was the beginning of the end.

After two years under Grau, the Fair Board granted the lease to the current leaseholder, Joe Mattioli (whose family runs Pocono Speedway). Like Grau, the first thing he did was change the name, this time to Music City Motorplex. The name was a reflection on their desire (or hope) to turn the track into a multi-use venue. An artist’s sketch they released showed a drag strip among other things.

Mattioli brought in veteran track operator Jack Deery. Deery rubbed a few people the wrong way, and the track lost a lot of good people because of it. Deery was released in 2006, and Mattioli brought in Norm Partin. Partin’s been around racing forever, and realized that something drastic needed to be done to get the car count back up from an average of 12. The track would abandon the dreadful experiment of running the main races on Friday night’s in 2006, and would go back to the traditional Saturday night races in 2007.

Now, this latest ownership change just adds another questionable chapter to the track’s history. As someone who was affiliated with the track for nearly 10 years (I owned and operated the official web site for the track, under all of its names, from 1996 until early 2004), I sincerely hope things turn around. Moving races back to Saturday night is a good start. That track has arguably generated more top NASCAR drivers than any other track. It’d be great to see it generate a few more.

UPDATE (1/1/07): I’ve just learned that Music City Motorplex is saying that the Nashville City Paper story I linked to above is untrue. This should be interesting.

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