Fair board to consider new racing operators after contract breach

Tuesday, November 1, 2011 at 10:12am

The Metro Board of Fair Commissioners will be hiring a new auto racing operator after its current speedway lessee breached a contract with the board, capping off what some already called a disappointing racing season.

Former NASCAR driver Bobby Hamilton Jr., who the fair board contracted in April to hold races at the fairgrounds speedway for the 2011 season, still owes the board $25,600 of a $53,100 payment that was due Oct. 30, state fair director Buck Dozier told commissioners Tuesday morning.

Eyeing the 2012 racing season, the fair board plans to consider proposals from other racing promoters at a Dec. 6 meeting. Three people have expressed interest in leasing the racetrack: former NASCAR legend Sterling Marlin; Tony Formosa, who leased the track before Hamilton; and Ron Jennette.

“We’re going to go through the process in December, just as we did in April, and go through each line of the contract, with both the race operators and all interested parties in the room,” board chair Katy Varney said, adding that includes input from the surrounding neighborhood.

Hamilton, according to Dozier, recently had three checks owed to the board –– for $750, $8,000 and $6,000, respectively –– bounce. That triggered a collections agency to get involved. Unclear whether payments were to go to Metro or the collections agency, Hamilton was unable to make subsequent payments.

“He’s indicated he’s going to pay it,” Dozier said.

Dozier confirmed to The City Paper that Marlin, one of the three racing bidders, had discussed assuming Hamilton’s debt in order to take over the speedway’s operations in 2012. However, Dozier said that scenario would be contingent on the board guaranteeing Marlin the lease: “We can’t do that,” he said.

Several racing enthusiasts spoke up at Tuesday’s morning to demand things change for the next racing season. The past year was seen as a major disappointment for the fairgrounds speedway, with Hamilton canceling the popular All American 400, the season’s final race. Some have said Hamilton was handicapped by unfair board mandates –– limiting night racing, for example.

Newly elected Metro Councilman Tony Tenpenny, speaking before the board Tuesday, called the 2011 racing season “dismal,” adding, “It was set up to fail.”

Following the meeting, Varney suggested the speedway is difficult to navigate financially.

“It’s hard to make a profit off of this race track,” Varney said. “I’m very sorry for what’s happened with Bobby Hamilton. We’ve enjoyed a very good working relationship with him, and I’m sorry for him, financially, that this has been so difficult.

“We have certainly all the protections in place that are needed for the city,” she said of the money still owed to the board. “I don’t have any worries in that respect.”

In other business Tuesday, the fair board agreed to re-hire the Tennessee State Fair Association –– a group of state agriculture, tourism and political leaders –– to operate the 2012 state fair.

The group, led by chair John Rose, operated the 2011 state fair in September. The event produced low attendance figures, in part because the board hired the state fair association only two months before the event.

For the 2012 event, the state fair association will have 10 months to prepare.

18 Comments on this post:

By: TITAN1 on 11/1/11 at 11:58

I hope any responses here will be much more mature than what I saw last week. If you have a problem with someone, why not take to that person directly instead of trashing that person on a newspaper website. From what I saw the person that was being trashed did not stoop to your level.

By: Doveplayer on 11/1/11 at 1:23

I was at the meeting this morning and must take issue to madam chairwoman Varneys statement. As she has only been on the board a very short time she has no clue just how successful the track can be, just not under its current restraints. With proper management and a long term lease it can make millions of dollars.
I also must take exception to the quote on flea market parking for the Oct event. It is claimed that only 8,800 vehicles were parked over the weekend, but I believe up to three times that many were in attendance. It was simply one of the best attended flea markets in recent history, even for an October event. It will be interesting to see what transpires with the track lease. They know the thoughts and feelings of the racing world, now they have no excuse to not get it right.

By: Oy Vey on 11/1/11 at 1:59

The narrow economic interests being represented are the handful of people with a financial interest in motorsports and a handful of people fencing, excuse me, SELLING goods at the flea market.

By: whitetrash on 11/1/11 at 2:21

Where is Moe, Larry, and Curly? Wait a minute I mean Jamie Hollin, Shane Smiley and Ronnie Campbell.

By: bfra on 11/1/11 at 3:01

Don't worry whitetrash, they can wipe the board with you, any day of the week. Unlike you, they present facts. Your IQ must be in contrast with your user name!

By: whitetrash on 11/1/11 at 3:43

Give the lease to Sterling Marlin. Lets see how deep his pockets really are! Come on Sterling put your money where your mouth is. Has anybody heard Sterling speak you can barely understand the redneck! The only reason I can barely understand him is because I'm whitetrash.

By: whitetrash on 11/1/11 at 3:46

Guess who I went as for Halloween? Okay you give up? I went as Racer84 and know one knew who I was... I was really bummed because I thought everyone knew the truck series Champion at the greatest short track in the world.

By: govskeptic on 11/1/11 at 6:22

These one year awarding of permits is ridiculous for any operator to do
anything with. Make a decision and grant a good contract or don't grant
one at all!

By: fair_minded on 11/1/11 at 8:49

@Doveplayer - i need to correct you on something-- Katy Varney has been on the Fair Board for a number of years... she was the replacement for (ready for this??)--- Rich Reibling when his term expired.

Ms.Varney is a tool of Dean's and her job is to be sure that the Fairgrounds loses all the money it can so that the mayor can close it down. She has no interest in doing what is right or living up to her oath as a Commissioner-- only to make Dean's dreams come true of giving the fairgrounds over to his developer buddies.

But she's been there since 2002, and could certainly make some money from the track if that was what the board was trying to do.

But keep in mind that the way the contract for the raceway is written, it's pretty much guaranteed to be a loser, both for Metro and the promoter.

Promoters are given short contracts and now have restrictions on when and how to race that make it pretty tough to make any money. But they have to have a performance bond to cover
the cost of their agreement with Metro, so Metro gets its money no matter what.

Of course the contract is set at a low figure, and has no performance variable built-in so that Metro got more money with more attendance at races-- it's a flat fee and has been for the last several years since Metro ordered the Fair Board to start draining money from the operation... just part of the plan... it's all connected.

And if you think that the mayor is not still trying to develop the Fairgrounds after that overwhelming referendum just passed in August, go here and read the RFP that was issued *last month* to develop a master plan for development of the Fairgrounds into mixed use and office space. http://www.nashville.gov/bob/rfp/rfp_12395.asp

This is IN SPITE of the referendum, and unlawful by virtue of the Charter amendment, which restricts use of the fairgrounds to activities that were in place in December, 2010.

So ask yourself WHY is Metro going to spend anywhere from $25,000 to over $100,00 of YOUR money to develop a master plan for something that is unlawful under the Charter??

By: BigPapa on 11/2/11 at 7:11

The referendum was whether he needed a greater majority of the city council that's it. And, conducting public policy via referendum is a very poor way of governing. It's short sighted and stagnating.

Dean will win on this. Mark my words.

By: fair_minded on 11/2/11 at 2:02

BUZZ! Wrong answer BigPappa... *here* is how the Metro Charter now reads after the referendum.

"All activities being conducted on the premises of the Tennessee State Fairgrounds as of December 31, 2010, including, but not limited to, the Tennessee State Fair, Expo Center Events, Flea Markets, and Auto Racing, shall be continued on the same site. No demolition of the premises shall be allowed to occur without approval by ordinance receiving 27 votes by the Metropolitan Council or amendment to the Metropolitan Charter." Chapter 6, Section 02 (11.602) (d).

You can read it on the actual ballot here: http://www.nashville.gov/vote/ballots.asp

By: BigPapa on 11/3/11 at 6:53

yeah, so he needs to get 27 votes.

Hollin really screwed over Nashville with that bit of idiocy.

By: wataboutbob on 11/3/11 at 7:32

I'm not one of you insiders so cannot comment on all this political haggling but, as a race fan, all I can say is that whoever takes over the racetrack management must make some improvements if they expect it to be successful and eventually turn a profit.
I organized a group of friends and family to attend the Firecracker 425 in early July and was deeply disappointed with what we experienced. Afterwards I sent an email to them with several suggestions that, as a fan, I believe are essential to draw us back to the track. They did reply with an email saying they would pass it along to management but nothing since. In a nutshell . . .

-improved PA sound system
-better food and souvenir concessions
-more competitive entrants, both in quality and quantity
-at least a rudimentary program listing drivers names and hometowns
-promotional advertisement on local rado/television

By: macjedi on 11/3/11 at 7:51

ALRIGHT!!! Let's double-down on bad ideas. Woo hoo!

What a dump. This is just another useless life-support measure in desperation.

By: Shane Smiley on 11/3/11 at 11:19

wataboutbob,

Good points.

By: shef2 on 11/3/11 at 9:33

Hey, Tony Formosa-! Try it again-!
Love, Susan

By: nissanguy on 11/4/11 at 7:34

What I haven't seen here is any comments from a racer that has dealt with the Hamilton organization.....so here's MY two cents....

I started racing again last year at Riverview Speedway after about a 20 year hiatus from the sport. Granted, my car wasn't the fastest car there, but we were getting the bugs worked out of it and it was getting better. After spending a little over ten years building a new car a few bucks at a time it was good to get back in the drivers seat again. Riverview had been closed for quite a while, and when Bobby took that track over we all thought that we might actually have a chance to run a full season. But that all changed when he took over the Fairgrounds track.

It seems way too coincidental that when Hamilton Entertainment took over the Fairgrounds track that Riverview was suddenly shut down. No warning. No information. No statement on the track website as to what was going on. Just "closed for the remainder of the season". Now, supposedly there had been a flood at Riverview and the flood had weakened the turn two wall and embankement on the back side of the track. But you couldn't get any info from anyone in Bobby's organization. No returned phone calls. Just "check our Facebook page". That's it. A little disappointing to say the least... but then, suddenly the Fairgrounds was open, and we could go race there. Should have known something just wasn't right. But we drank the kool-aid and went to Nashville to go race. And it sucked!!

It sucked because we had to tow an extra hour to get to the track from Cookeville. It sucked because there was waaaaay too much emphasis on the Late Model cars. The guys down in the Front Wheel Drive classes got about 10 minutes of practice time per race day. How the hell are you supposed to figure out a new track in ten minutes?!! We weren't the only ones, though....there were a lot of us unwanted orphans down there in the lower classes. But by God we raced - and we put on one hell of a show!! It sucked because no one could tell you when they were gonna draw numbers for starting positions - or which classes were drawing because you couldn't hear what the stewards were saying. It sucked because the track P.A. system was so crappy that you couldn't tell what was going on so you had to walk around with an MP3 player stuck in your ear all day so you could hear the track radio announcements. It sucked because the bunch running the show couldn't post the starting grids someplace. But we still came. And we raced. And spent our money to do something we loved.

But that's different now. My toy is out in the garage on jack stands with a cover on it, because I refuse to spend my money to go racing and feel like my time and money don't mean anything. I don't HAVE to go racing...even though I want to. I'll tow to Charlotte before I EVER go racing at a track that Hamilton Entertainment operates. Period. And I hope you get to read this Bobby. Maybe you'll get a clue!!

By: smiless on 11/9/11 at 12:33

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