Sport

SMI pushes back on Nashville Fair commissioner’s comments

Speedway Motorsports’ Marcus Smith and Jerry Caldwell each pushed back Tuesday on critical comments made by a Nashville Fair Board Commissioner alleging SMI has “failed to engage” with it regarding plans to bring NASCAR to the historic Fairgrounds Speedway.

The comments by Commissioner Jason Bergeron, reported by The Tennessean, were made at Nashville’s monthly Fair Board meeting and revolved around the dispute over a $335 million Major League Soccer stadium that has been approved by the city and, pending approval by the mayor, would be built next to the speedway.

“We need to decouple any notion of racing from this right now,” Bergeron said. “That process hasn’t even started because (Speedway Motorsports) has failed to engage.”

Smith, the CEO and president of SMI, responded on Twitter by calling Bergeron’s accusation “just not true.”

Bristol Motor Speedway, which has spearheaded the attempt to bring NASCAR racing back to Nashville, released the following statement from Caldwell, the track’s vice president and general manager:

We’ve presented the city – Mayor Cooper and the Fair Board – with a plan to restore the historic speedway and give it an economically viable future. In meetings with Mayor Cooper, his team and other city officials during the past several weeks, we’ve been asked to evaluate different operating scenarios and have provided information to the city as requested. We’ve done everything we have been asked to do and have met with everyone we have been asked to meet with. We will continue to provide any assistance necessary as the city considers what’s best for the future of the Fairgrounds.

Because the Fair Board has a Metro Charter-obligation to maintain the speedway, we have been and continue to be optimistic that the commissioners and the mayor will be supportive of a partnership with BMS to modernize and financially sustain the speedway.

Our team has long believed in the future of the historic speedway and the Fairgrounds. We became even more excited about that future when Nashville was awarded an MLS franchise and committed to build a new soccer stadium. It is within the city’s reach to have a thriving multi-use sports and entertainment complex to create a true landmark for the city

SMI seeks an agreement with Nashville to bring top-tier stock-car racing back to the city but has not been able to work through financing and other issues. SMI proposed a $60 million renovation plan in May for the historic .596-mile track that would increase seating capacity from 15,000 to 30,000, among other projects.

A previous plan for $54 million in bond payments was rejected by then-Mayor David Briley. John Cooper defeated Bailey to become the city’s mayor in September.

The Tennessean reported in December that the mayor’s spokesperson confirmed that the administration received a new proposal from SMI and it was being reviewed.

Cooper published an opinion column on Sunday expressing his desire to reach an agreement that works for both the soccer and racing communities.

“One historical use is auto racing, which is mandated by our Metro Charter,” Cooper wrote. “I’m working to find a path for racing’s success, and in these negotiations, I’ve secured additional space to allow for necessary speedway improvements. Higher-level auto racing will attract more visitors and ensure the long-term sustainability of the fairgrounds.”

Last month, Smith told NBC Sports that he was still “very optimistic” about NASCAR racing returning to Nashville, which is the new host of the Cup Series’ awards banquet.

“Everything we’re working on seems to be moving forward in a reasonable pace,” Smith said. “I don’t think I can really put a timeframe on it right now because it would just be speculation.”

There is a push for Nashville to potentially be part of the NASCAR schedule in 2021. The schedule is expected to be announced in early April.
Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, said last month: “I would say Nashville as a market is a high priority for us in 2021.”