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1911 race at Tennessee Fairgrounds
|Owner||Tennessee State Fairgrounds|
|Operator||Tony Formosa, Jr.|
|Broke ground||1904, 1958|
|Length||0.596 mi (0.959 km)|
|Length||0.25 mi (0.40 km)|
Fairgrounds Speedway is an independent racetrack located at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds near downtown Nashville, Tennessee. The track is the second oldest continually operating track in the United States. The track held NASCAR Grand National/Winston Cup (now Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series) races from 1958 to 1984.
The speedway is currently an 18 degree banked paved oval. The track is 0.596 mi (0.959 km) long. Inside the larger oval is a 1⁄4 mi (0.40 km) paved oval.
The track was converted to a 1⁄2 mi (0.80 km) paved oval in 1957, when it began to be a NASCAR series track. The speedway was lengthened between the 1969 and 1970 seasons. The corners were cut down from 35 degrees to their present 18 degrees in 1972. The track was repaved between the 1995 and 1996 seasons.
The track first featured "horseless carriages" and motorcycles on June 11, 1904, on a 1 1⁄8 mi (1.8 km) dirt oval. Races were canceled after a motorcycle ran into the back of a car that was lining up. Harness horse racing events were also held at the track.
In September 1904 another series of races was organized. Most of the entrants came directly to Nashville from the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis, Missouri. Racing pioneer Barney Oldfield was one of the entrants. People marveled at cars driving over 60 miles per hour (97 km/h).
The track began holding annual events in September 1915 to coincide with the state fair. Many of the same drivers from the Indianapolis 500 brought their cars down to Nashville.
Local tracks sprang up and began running weekly Saturday night shows (collectively called the "Legion Bowl"), and the local racers competed at the track for the 1954 through 1957 State Fairs. In 1958 car racers decided to build a paved racetrack. The racers ended opposition from horse racers by building a horse track. The racers got a 10-year lease from the state fair board in order to build a paved 1⁄2 mile track which shared the frontstretch with a 1⁄4 mile track. On July 19, 1958, the first race was held at the new speedway. Races were held only on the 1⁄4 mile track (except for special events).
A 1959 NASCAR Grand National race of 200 laps in 1959 was unique; it was the first time an entire starting field (12 of 12 cars) finished the race, one of four instances it has happened in Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series history. That would not happen again until 36 years later, when the entire field at the 1995 Tyson Holly Farms 400 finished the race.
The original cars (since 1948) were 1930s model cars called "Modified Specials". By 1964 the parts for cars were too hard to find, so the track changed to newer 1950s model cars called "Late Model Modifieds". Some of the early stars of the track decided to retire.
The 1960s also frequently brought drivers from outside Nashville, most notably the Alabama Gang. The Alabama Gang (from Hueytown, Alabama) included future NASCAR legends Bobby Allison, Donnie Allison, and Nashville native Red Farmer.
Coo Coo Marlin was the first back-to-back champion in 1965/1966. 1968 champion P.B. Crowell decided to retire, and hired the talented young Darrell Waltrip to drive his car. Country music legend Marty Robbins raced often at the track in his signature purple and yellow race cars.
Several changes happened at the track in the 1960s. Lights were added to the 1⁄2 mile track in 1965, and races in the main division moved to the big track. A fire burned the grandstands at the 1965 State Fair. Weekly Tuesday night races were added, and fans were awed by the crazy Figure-8 drivers barely missing each other as they crossed each other's paths. New grandstands were built and the track was lengthened (and banked to 35 degrees) in 1969.
The bankings in the corners proved to be too fast, so the banking was reduce to 18 degrees. The new ownership decided to hold no weekly races in 1979.
The 1970s also featured talented drivers that would progress to NASCAR's highest division. Second generation drivers Sterling Marlin (son of Coo Coo) and Steve Spencer (NASCAR) Mike Alexander (NASCAR) (son of car owner R.C.) were all track champions. Alabama Gang member Jimmy Means took the track title home to Alabama in 1974 before he moved on to NASCAR's Winston Cup.
The track returned to hosting weekly races in 1980. In 1984, the top NASCAR series fielded its final race at the facility after disputes with city government and track management. The new headline division featured smaller Camaro-type bodies called "Late Model Stock Cars". The new division caught on slowly, and only 13 drivers competed in the first race. The division finally caught on in 1987. NASCAR stars that raced in 1987 or 1988 included Bobby Allison, Sterling Marlin, Mike Alexander, Darrell Waltrip, Bill Elliott, and Dale Earnhardt. Third generation driver Bobby Hamilton won track championships in 1987 and 1988.
The 1990 season was dominated by Jeff Green. Mike Reynolds won the 1991 track championship. Mike Alexander won the 1992 track championship. Chad Chaffin won the 1993 and 1995 track championships. Andy Kirby won the 1994, 1996, and 1997 track championships. Joe Buford won the 1998 and 1999 track championships.
The ARCA Racing Series held a 200-lap race in 1992. In 1995, the track returned to the NASCAR circuit, hosting a yearly NASCAR Busch Series race and later, a yearly NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race. Those races would move to the new Nashville Superspeedway in 2001.
The 2007 schedule featured races in NASCAR's two regional series, including Grand National (Busch East) and a Whelen Modified (Southern) event.
In 2009, Music City Motorplex was to host an ARCA RE/MAX Series event on June 20, but it was announced on February 20, 2009 that the race would be moved to Mansfield Motorsports Park in Mansfield, Ohio.
In 2009, the track's prestigious All American 400 was canceled and not rescheduled because of severe rain and political issues with Nashville mayor Karl Dean, who has wanted the track and the Tennessee State Fairgrounds closed in order to redevelop the site. A ballot measure protecting the track was passed and the track has continued to operate since under the guidance of Tony Formosa Jr.
The All American 400 has been resurrected for 2012, whereas the ARCA Racing Series has visited the venue since 2015.
The track held at least one Cup race each year from 1958 to 1984.
A capacity crowd of 13,998 watched Joe Weatherly win the first NASCAR race on August 10, 1958.
Geoff Bodine beat Darrell Waltrip for his second career win in the last Winston Cup race at the track, the second win for the upstart All Star Racing team in the premiership, owned by Charlotte area Chevrolet dealer Rick Hendrick.
NASCAR left the track because the grandstands are too small, and because of a dispute over who would manage the track took place prior to the start of the 1985 season. As of 2016, NASCAR's highest level of competition (now called the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series) has not returned to a track in the Nashville market.
Of the 42 Cup races, Richard Petty has nine wins, with Darrell Waltrip right behind with eight wins. Waltrip won 5 of 6 races between 1981 and 1984. Waltrip's victory in the 1988 Busch Series event gives him the career best nine wins total at the track. Counting NASCAR, USAC, ASA, and local track races, Waltrip holds the all-time track record for wins with 67.
Craftsman Truck Series
List of notable weekly drivers
The number and quality of former weekly drivers to reach the upper levels of NASCAR demonstrates how high the competition level must have been at the track, and the importance that the track has had to the sport.
- Mike Alexander - 2 time track champion and current car owner
- Casey Atwood - 1996 Rookie of the Year
- Bunkie Blackburn - regular weekly competitor
- Joe Buford - 4 time track champion
- Chad Chaffin - 2 time track champion and current car owner
- Mark Day - 2006 track champion
- Jeff Green - 1 time champion
- Bobby Hamilton - 2 time track champion (plus 2 time champion in a lower division)
- Andy Kirby - 3 time track champion
- Coo Coo Marlin - 4 time track champion
- Steadman Marlin- Grandson of Coo Coo Marlin son of Sterling Marlin part-time Busch series driver and part-time Fairgrounds competitor
- Sterling Marlin - 3 time track champion, still racing in Pro Late Model division
- Steve Spencer - Track Champion, Rookie of Year, Tenn. State Champion, Track Record Holder
- Jimmy Means - 1 time track champion
- Jeremy Mayfield - former weekly competitor
- Chase Montgomery - ran the full 2000 season
- Deborah Renshaw - became the first woman to ever lead a NASCAR sanctioned series when the young woman climbed to the top of the points standings at Fairgrounds Speedway at Nashville.
- Darrell Waltrip - 2 time track champion
Use in gaming
The track was used in the Grand National Expansion Pack for Sierra's NASCAR Racing 2 game and was later converted for use in NASCAR4, NASCAR 2002 and NASCAR 2003.
- Pogue, Greg (April 4, 2013). "Fairgrounds Speedway primed for 55th season". Fox Sports. Retrieved November 18, 2016.
- "1959 Music City 200". Racing Reference. Retrieved April 22, 2014.
- "Mansfield Replaces Nashville on 2009 ARCA RE/MAX Series Schedule" (Press release). ARCAracing.com. February 20, 2009.
- "To lure Cup race, two tracks take different tacks". The Tennessean. May 2, 2007. Retrieved May 12, 2007.