The joke at Highland Rim Speedway used to be: “Come for the races, stay for the fights.” The roughneck reputation of the little quarter-mile Ridgetop bullring has haunted it for most of its 46-year existence.
“My wife and daughter wouldn’t go to the Rim because of its reputation,” said Bobby Hamilton Jr. “Well, those days are over. I don’t care how many security guards its takes, that stuff won’t be tolerated any more. Highland Rim is going to be a place where you can take you family, enjoy great racing and feel completely safe.”
Hamilton, as the new owner of the track, is staking a sizable investment on his ability to mend the track’s reputation, upgrade the facility and perhaps in the process rescue weekly racing in Middle Tennessee.
Hamilton recently bought the track, located 20 miles north of Nashville off I-65, partly from sentiment and partly as a business venture.
“The first race I ever saw was at Highland Rim, where my dad started racing,” said Hamilton, 31, whose late father got his start at the tough little oval and went on to NASCAR stardom. “Every time I go back there I feel the presence of my dad.”
The Hamiltons, father and son, are just two of the many Nashville-area drivers who used the Rim as a springboard into NASCAR. They include Casey Atwood, Jeff Green, Jeremy Mayfield and Chad Chaffin.
Among the big-leaguers who raced there were Bobby and Donnie Allison, Red Farmer and Darrell Waltrip.
Hamilton lives in Greenbrier, a lug-nut throw from the racetrack. He said he and his dad had considered buying the place a few years ago “but the timing wasn’t right.”
What makes it right now is the demise of Nashville’s Fairground Speedway, closed by Nashville's mayor and the Fair Board after 52 years. Hundreds of displaced drivers and thousands of frustrated fans will be looking for a new track and Hamilton believes his can fill the bill.
“The interest in racing hasn’t died in Middle Tennessee despite what some people say,” Hamilton said. “I believe I can make this work.”
While Hamilton is preparing a place for others to race, his own driving career is in limbo. He is co-owner of Rensi-Hamilton Racing which competes in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, but has yet to put together a sponsorship package for next season. He also acquired Nashville-based Sadler Racing which was merged into Bobby Hamilton Racing and will compete in lower-division races.
“I’d like to race, but if I can’t then I’ll devote my time to running my racetrack,” he said. “We’re going to pump new life into this old track.”