The death of Fairgrounds Speedway could mean new life for Highland Rim.
At least that’s what Bobby Hamilton Jr. is banking on as he prepares for Saturday’s season opener as the new owner/operator of the Ridgetop track located 20 miles north of Nashville.
“I hope a lot of drivers and fans who had been going to the Fairgrounds will come up and give us a look,” Hamilton said. “We’ve worked hard to make improvements and I think folks will like what they see.”
Hamilton has already encountered one problem — a pleasant one.
“We held a test session one day last week and so many cars showed up that we didn’t have room for them all,” he said. “We had over 200 cars, and had to park some of them outside the track to wait their turn. That’s the kind of turnout I’d been hoping for.”
The demise of the Fairgrounds is not finalized; a group continues to wage a legal battle with Metro to retain such fixtures as the state fair and flea market. There is even a chance that someone might step in at the 11th hour and run a few races on the 53-year-old track.
But there is no hope to salvage the type of program that in years past produced some of NASCAR’s greatest drivers and led the nation in attendance for a weekly series.
“I hate to see it from a personal standpoint,” said Hamilton, whose late father Bobby Sr. was a Fairgrounds track champion and whose great-grandfather, Preacher Hamilton, built and crewed cars for Marty Robbins.
“My family has a lot of history at that old track. But we’ve got a lot of history at Highland Rim, too. When I was a little kid I used to come here and watch my dad race. Those are some of my earliest memories.”
Hamilton, who raced in the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series, has put his driving career on hold while working on his racetrack.
“This is a whole new side of the sport for me,” he said. “I’d always just showed up at the track, climbed in my car and run the race, then got out and went home. I had no idea what all’s involved before the green flag waves.”
Hamilton said he and wife Stephanie have been busy hiring race inspectors and officials, concession-stand workers and security personnel, overseeing cleanup details and driver entries, “and a million other things I’d never given any thought to.”
He also has spruced up the facility, from grandstands to restrooms, “but the bad weather set us back because some days it was just too cold to work. Thankfully a lot of friends pitched in and helped out. I’ve called in a lot of favors.”
Hamilton realizes that the little quarter-mile track had a rowdy reputation during much of its past 48 years. Sometimes passions sometimes spilled over from the track into the pits and even into the stands.
“Those days are over,” Hamilton said. “This is going to be a racetrack where you can bring your wife and kids and feel perfectly safe. I won’t allow a few rowdies to ruin it for everybody.”
Hamilton said he is “nervous and excited” as Saturday’s 2 p.m. opener approaches.
“It’s the same feeling you get as a driver before the start of a big race,” he said. “I’m kinda holding my breath to see what happens.”