Waltrip lobbies to keep racing at fairgrounds

Tuesday, December 1, 2009 at 6:07pm

Making his first appearance before the five-member Metro Fair Board in years, racing icon Darrell Waltrip urged board members and city officials Tuesday to keep the racetrack operating in 2010.

With fellow NASCAR driver Sterling Marlin to his side, Waltrip said there are racing groups interested in leasing the track from the board for potentially one last racing season, which typically runs from March through October.

“There’s a number of groups,” Waltrip told The City Paper after the meeting. “There’s a group called ASA, the American Speed Association, that has a traveling series that is very interested in doing something here.

“I am interested in keeping the facility open, but I’m also interested in some sort of working relationship with the Fair Board to where they’re a partner,” he said.

Current track operator Danny Denson’s lease with the Fair Board expires Dec. 31. Denson still owes the board a sizable sum of money, perhaps as much as $40,000, which he said he shouldn’t have to pay because of the uncontrollable negative fairgrounds news he contends hurt attendance figures. As of Tuesday, no racing outfit is slated to operate the track after this year.

Waltrip, a three-time Winston Cup NASCAR champion who resides in neighboring Williamson County, said the track might be best suited for six to eight yearly “big events” instead of weekly races.

“Big events really make a lot of money because you draw competitors from all over the country,” he said. “You have time to promote it and really do a lot in the community.”

Waltrip’s plea came after the board voted to follow contractual obligations by giving proper notification to North American Midway Entertainment, a company the board hires to produce rides, games and concessions, about plans to cease operations of the Tennessee State Fair next year.

The board is scheduled to operate the 117-acre fairgrounds property until the end of June, but at that point Metro would assume authority. In a letter written two weeks ago, Mayor Karl Dean expressed his desire to continue scheduled events — which don’t include racing or the state fair — on the property through the end of 2010.

“The fair board is willing to consider a request from anyone for operation of the track between January and June or July of 2010, when we still have operational control of the facility,” Fair Board chairman James Weaver said, adding the board doesn’t currently have a proposal on the table.

“We want the facility fully utilized certainly in the first half of 2010,” Weaver said. “So if we get a proposal that’s reasonable, I’m sure we’ll give it favorable consideration.”

But the traditional racing season tends to run through October, leaving four months in which leasing would be outside control of the board and presumably in the hands of Metro.

In a written statement, Mayor’s Office spokeswoman Janel Lacy said, “The neighbors around the fairgrounds have made it clear they don’t want to see racing continue on that site.

“The track has lost money and suffered from extremely low attendance for years,” she added. “The current operator hasn’t been able to pay rent since June. The contract expires in December of this year, and the mayor doesn’t support keeping the racetrack open in 2010.”

The board’s vote to notify Midway is yet another indication that the fair has seen its last days at Wedgewood Avenue and Nolensville Pike.

“As we’ve said many, many times, it’s fiscally irresponsible for us to simply operate this facility until we’re totally broke, and then go to the Council and say, ‘We’re out of money,’” Weaver said.

Buck Dozier, executive director of the Tennessee State Fair, said he has met with two entrepreneurs who have approached him about potentially operating the fair next year.

One of the groups would like to lease the property during the 10-day event before taking over the fair as a nonprofit, a proposal Dozier called “problematic.” He said he hasn’t heard from the other individual in a couple of months.

“There are some people out there very interested in keeping it alive,” Dozier said.

59 Comments on this post:

By: racer84 on 12/2/09 at 5:49

Yes, Blanket they may very well have, read above, $25,000 annually in Tires, Fuel at $8 per gal,Track Rental once or twice a week, Pit Passes, all of this is paid to the LEASEHOLDER of the track, as mandated by track rules.

I have watched him write 2 and 3 thousand dollar checks for tires and fuel for his and other teams on a race weekend many times.

When you have a $50,000 dollar race car and carry it to the track in a $300,000 truck and trailer that's parked at a 3-4 million dollar race shop located within 5-6 miles from the track you're making and spending some serious money in davidson county.

By: 117_acres on 12/2/09 at 6:04

Public Access to me is the area around Centennial park on West End Ave. One can go there 365 days a year within the operational hours. One can go there to visit the Parthenon, enjoy the green space, run or walk on the track that surrounds the property or attend some type of event or festival that is taking place. Someone can also go right across the street to the bookstore, coffee shop, and restaurants which are privately owned and available to the general public. Other examples are Bicentennial mall/park with their farmers market and restaurants that are available as well as the green space and the developing residential community down by the Stockyard. A multimillion dollar black history museum is about to break ground on the property as well. There have been Civil War reenactments at Bicentennial mall/park and other similar events which are educational and free to the public. The only thing I'm for eliminating at the fairgrounds is the racetrack. If the city wants to improve the property and keep all events and give the public more access that is fine with me. As long as the chain link fencing and barb wire come down, the property is improved by creating one big flat piece of green space, and the public has access to the property I don't know how I couldn't be for it. It would also be nice if we had some places to go to like the places at the Farmers Market at Bicentennial.

By: some1else on 12/2/09 at 6:16

@blanketnazi--
"why not bring in a tenant that brings in more money for the city and improves the grounds? sounds logical to me."

firstly, the fairgrounds are not a 'tenant' ... by legislation, that property is established as a "permanent state institution" -- a home for the State Fair-- and cannot be used for any other purpose.

None of the money from the fairgrounds operation can legally go to metro, so even if, say the racetrack, was leased to another promoter, or even another event, the city would not get the money-- it would go back into the operation of the fairground.

thus the activities at the fairgrounds can best be compared to a park, except this one does not cost taxpayers a dime, whereas other parks do.

however, i would agree that the facilities and grounds need improvement, and i'd also agree with racer84 above that it's squarely the fault of poor management and neglect that it's in the condition it's in. what we need is a change is the management and their attitudes.

By: racer84 on 12/2/09 at 6:56

117

Was just thinking.......You've named so many other areas of Nashville that already have the utopia for which you long to live amongst ?

Why for heavens sake did you not buy there instead of by the fairgrounds ?

Probably couldn't afford to huh ?

Property next to a race track must go at bargain basement prices huh ?

Did the realtor tell you the track was going away and you'd make a bundle when it does ?
Not so fast.....they don't know what the future could be...

Makes also the point that the city is already full of the types of places you enjoy, so why overdo something that's already readily avaiable within 5-10 minutes of the fairgrounds.

Well guess what, not everyone enjoys those things as you do and there aren't any other places which exist in davidson county to house these events.

I do understand that you don't live for racing and have other things you enjoy. But you are attacking what many of us, and many that live and work in davidson county do enjoy, but also many rely on for our income.

So until every bookstore. greenspace and coffee shop within davidson county is ordered to close so racetracks, flea markets, and gun show buildings can be built you will not understand.

Do you have any earthly idea how many kids in Middle Tennessee, Heck adults too that wake up every single day with a dream to do something there on that property ?
Whether it be to be a race car driver, To raise a cow to win an award, To open your own antique furniture spot in the flea market, To be an announcer, Or a flag man, to be the next Fabulous one, To be a roller derby girl...Good grief, You people have no idea

Thousands upon Thousands !

Once the fairgrounds is demolished, All of those activities and the jobs and incomes derived from them, and many lives and dreams.....will also be lost forever...

Gone...no more.....for a coffee shop and some grass, Maybe HCA corp office....wow, life changers !

I'm sick

By: some1else on 12/2/09 at 6:58

117_acres
almost everything you list as 'public access' to the park, has nothing to do with the park itself-- all of those restaurants, shops, housing, bookshop, coffee shop, etc. have nothing directly to do with the park itself. you can walk a block up the street from the fairgrounds to one of the best ethiopean restaurants in the city-- does that count as public access to the fairgrounds?

and as pointed out, you're free to walk the creek, picnic in the open fields-- whatever, at the fairgrounds... i'll admit in their current state, not everyone would want to... but it shouldn't be trashed and turned into strip malls because of poor management... get new management (fair board) who actually cares about having a first-rate facility *of it's type* for the citizens of nashville and the surrounding area.

i'll give you that there is not a reproduction of a reproduction of the parthenon at the fairgrounds... but there *is* a reproduction of a log cabin!

but as far as the 'free' events at bicentennial, they are there because metro pays for the park and *subsidizes* their operations, thus costing the taxpayers money. some of the events at the fairgrounds, such as the fleamarket have free admission, with the vendors paying for their space-- so that metro does *not* subsidize their activity... and again, metro puts nothing into the fairgrounds, so it's not subsidizing anything there! And there is an event of some type almost every weekend at the fairgrounds, not just on occasion like at bicentennial. the cost of these events is what supports the fairgrounds, not taxpayer money!

and you mentioned the civil war re-enactment group... i've talked to their commander and he's also interested in doing events at the fairgrounds in the future... especially since the fairgrounds historically served as the muster grounds for local troops for the spanish-american, civil, and other, wars.

and speaking of the civil war, did you know the largest civil war show in the *world* is being held at the fairgrounds this weekend??

you said "The only thing I'm for eliminating at the fairgrounds is the racetrack. If the city wants to improve the property and keep all events and give the public more access that is fine with me."

then why don't you act like it, and support the preservation and improvement of the fairgrounds?? auto racing is an event at the fairgrounds, just like any other event there-- wrestling, roller girls, whatever...

if you truly support the fairgrounds, but not racing, then your argument is with the fair board for leasing it out.

just like it would not be logical to close the fairgrounds and State Fair because you don't like roller derby or wrestling, neither is it logical to close down the fairgrounds because you don't like auto racing.

By: 117_acres on 12/2/09 at 8:21

I actually like racing I just don't think it belongs in the middle of a major City. The fact is the City of Nashville has out grown the racetrack. Nashville is a City of over 500,000 people and just an FYI Nashville has African-Americans, Asians, Hispanics, Muslims, Jews, and other ethnic groups living here. The racetrack caters to mainly white blue collar folks which there is nothing wrong with expect that there are other ethnic groups that should be able to use the property. Bicentennial and Centennial Parks are used by every type of nationality and ethnic group that Nashville has to offer.

Some1else my point about the area around West End is that you have a mix of public and private land. That is something the City is exploring doing with the fairgrounds property. You have a great park that has something for everyone throughout the year. This area of town mixes small retail stores with above office suites across the street from the park. The City wants to create jobs as well as preserve green space for the community and that works for me!

By: some1else on 12/2/09 at 9:26

117_acres...

you said :that there are other ethnic groups that should be able to use the property."

do you think there is some ban on certain ethnic groups using the fairgrounds?? don't you think anyone who wants can rent/lease space there??

are you not aware that the largest ethnic event in the *region*, Cinco De Mayo, has been an annual event at the fairgrounds the past few years??

did you not know there was an 'international festival' held during the fair this year, celebrating many ethnic groups??

and the civil war re-enactment group i spoke of earlier with an interest in the fairgrounds?? they're a black re-enactment group formed after an actual union regiment from nashville.

and saying that short-track racing caters to white blue collar groups is like saying that Cinco de Mayo caters mainly to hispanics... duh...

and centennial park is just a bit larger than the fairgrounds-- 132 acres-- so put the retail shops/ offices along nolensville road and craighead (both already zoned commercial)-- they''d be in walking distance from the fairgrounds, and the fairgrounds would serve as a buffer between the commercial district and the residences in the wedgewood area...

you don't have to trash the fairgrounds to do that, any more than you have to trash centennial park to have shops and stores nearby...

and we don't know *what* the city wants to do with the property, since they have no plan and won't tell us... but i'll tell you something you probably already know-- that the top two rumors from the mayor's office have it sold for commercial development-- no parks, and your greenway may be a sidewalk between office buildings... and then so much for your neighborhood...

By: ratherberacing on 12/4/09 at 11:19

RatherBeRacing

Hey everyone, I live and work in this neighborhood. And I love it.

The fairgrounds today? Right now it is multi-use, multi cultural, and doing ok, considering a nation wide economic depression.

My feeling? We keep our baby, but DO throw out of the bath water. The grounds are in bad need of cleaning and fresh marketing, new scheduling requirements for noise, bigger draw events etc. With a positive attitude and a non-partisan fair board we can turn it around and make it as special as it should be -
With park space, fairs for everyone, roller derby, craft shows, trade shows, flea markets, walkways, and races. (Maybe limit practice during the week - stop at 6 p.m. etc...) Without further impact on the environment, city infrastructure, or anyone else in the neighborhood. That won't cost near as much as other outcomes, and this choice can be modified going forward if it is not working in ten years.

How about we make the whole thing a park? That would be nice. Get rid of the noisy cars, the riff raff of a fair... The City must spend money maintaining it, and policing it, for no return at all. Kind of like most of the golf courses only better, (those golf courses won't let us in to picnic). This will never happen. Not without an endowment.

Reality? It's 117 acres in the middle of a metropolitan area. It's worth a lot of money! The powers that be probably already have an agenda for it, but are appeasing us with procedure. Please follow my "developer" thought process... These two actions (to me) make the most money for those in the decision positions (of today):

Build 400 affordable duplex homes on a half acre each with a lovely 17 acre park for the people. (Condo's might be better — they generate yearly fees for doing very little.)

OK - not with that? How about this:

Build 300 offices in a four level complex with 4 cornering shopping strips at 10 stores each. Capitalize on 85 of the acres with a per square foot return, 10 more acres for a pay parking structures, the remaining land for some sidewalks and low maintenance trees and grass.

Either build is a large flow of cars day in and out. (Don't worry, they are quiet ones.) The City will have to rebuild and widen all the surrounding roads, build access to Interstate 65 and 40, we will need traffic lights, police, complete reworking of the water and power infrastructure, more bus service, another fire station, what about all those trains that block the new major arteries in and out? Might need a bridge or two in case of emergency vehicles... Oh yea, if we get the condo's we need schools and a place to play (Developers don't build those, a pesky insurance problem.) so we will have to fight traffic and get that somewhere else in the city. More busing maybe? Regardless we pay for it. Helping developers is what tax money is for.

If you don't believe me look at ANYTHING the Trump organization has done in the last 20 years. And if you don't like people coming from other counties to use this area, you will love the new owners. They only fly in for investment strategy meetings.

Remember, developers are patient and ruthless. They will not EVER live here. They want to sell here. Patience pays...
First, we fight and play among ourselves: Pretend we can effect change. The council will postpone and shuffle, and use parliamentary procedures to block and pose. Their well meaning aides and assistants will read to us — well versed — from cryptic hidden agenda letters, really trying to believe they are helping the community. We will have viewpoints and counter points, staying in denial about the fact the City has already decided to unload the burden of responsibility... (That point was clear months ago.)
And mother nature will take care of the rest. She will rust the structures, overgrow the area, and make an eyesore.
Then, when it looks really worthless: We have all given up, too tired to go and listen anymore, too much else to do, the calendar has been shifted for the 30th time, no one knows a vote is passing a sale in an obscure unannounced meeting and boom. The developers buy it for ten cents on the dollar, and a few "good ol' boy network" deals.

In just five years they can destroy and steal what we have, and build what we will dread — And we will have lost a cherish-able piece of Nashville.

By: nourider on 12/7/09 at 8:32

We bill our city as country and having roots. One thing that always made me smile was being able to poke my head out of a bar downtown and hear live music in one ear and racecars in the other. There is no other city in the US that I'm aware of where that occurs. Now, sadly, there are none.

Go ahead, turn the site into a nice clean office park with gates and maybe some nice imported shrubbery. Just remember whose pockets are being filled and the real reasons why.

After this, the Disneyfacation and Gaylordization of the roots we claim to pride ourselves on will be near complete. Why have the real thing when you can watch it on tv.

By the same logic, let's kick Grandma out because we can rent her room for more money.

We're losing one more thing that Nashville can NEVER get back. Let's just change our name to Orlando and be done with it.