The obit had been published, “Taps” had been played, and fond goodbyes had been said.
Now it turns out that Fairgrounds Speedway is not dead after all. Not quite.
Former driver Tony Formosa, whose family has raced there for most of the track’s 52 years, is desperately working to keep the wheezing old facility on life support. Formosa has arranged to run five weekends of racing there this year, starting with last weekend’s Frank Kimmel Street Stock Nationals.
“We won’t give up without a fight,” said Formosa, who believes there is hope for Nashville’s longest-running pro sport despite Mayor Karl Dean’s edict earlier this year to close the fairgrounds and redevelop the property.
“This track has meant too much to too many people for so long to just throw it all away,” Formosa said.
Formosa is playing for time, hoping for a shift in sentiment that could save not only the track but also other traditional fairgrounds events.
“More people use this place than use a lot of other Metro facilities,” Formosa said, “and at much less cost to the taxpayers.”
The racetrack continues to draw neighborhood noise complaints — even though the engines first fired up over a half-century ago — and the mayor believes the site can be better used for something other than stock car racing, the State Fair, flea markets and other long-running events. What that something is has yet to be determined, however.
Formosa has faced an uphill battle, not just against City Hall but also Mother Nature.
The devastating floods wiped out his scheduled opener the first weekend in May. (Browns Creek flows through the floodplain property, making commercial development risky.)
Since the floodwater subsided, Formosa spent significant time with cleanup and repairs in preparation for the rescheduled opener. A schedule of events, times and ticket information is posted on the track website, fairgroundsspeedwaynashville.com.
Formosa’s late father was a team owner who worked with 21 track champions in various divisions over the years. His brother Nicky was one of those champions. Tony also was a top driver for many years, although he never won a championship.
Several prominent area drivers who got their start at the fairgrounds are supporting the effort to save the track, including Fox Sports commentator Darrell Waltrip and two-time Daytona 500 champion Sterling Marlin.
Marlin, a Titans fan, said he’s not opposed to progress, “but we can grow without sacrificing our history and heritage. I enjoy going to a Titans game on Sunday, but I also like to go to the racetrack on Saturday night. There’s no reason why we can’t have both.”
Formosa knows the reprieve is temporary, and that this abbreviated summer of racing could be the last in a town that once ranked with Daytona on the NASCAR map.
“We’ll do all we can to try to save it,” he said. “It’s like they say: Where there’s life there’s hope, and racing’s not dead yet.”