It Should Live Up to the Hype

Just before last weekend’s Bommarito Auto Group 500; a group of IndyCar officials that included Roger Penske made a trip to my hometown of Nashville. For the last few years, various groups have been trying to put together a street race in downtown Nashville.

At one point, the focus was on an IndyCar race. Details of a track layout that was located around Nissan Stadium, home of the NFL’s Tennessee Titans, were released and the track at that time was something of a joke. It essentially raced through the parking lot surrounding both sides of the stadium. To say that passing zones were scarce would be generous. I drove my Honda Civic around the proposed layout at around 20 mph and felt like I was pushing the boundaries of the tight course. I could not imagine two Indy cars battling for the same section of real estate at speed, on this layout. Fortunately, those plans were dropped fairly quickly.

Then there were murmurs that they may be aiming to bring an IMSA event to town, but I think those rumors were floated around to see if they could gain any leverage with IndyCar.

Then suddenly we heard nothing. For a couple of years or more, things were very quiet. Then the strangest thing happened this past June. Out of the blue, NASCAR announced that they would revive Nashville Superspeedway from the scrap heap, with plans to run a Cup race there in 2021. While that announcement seemed to catch everyone in the Nashville area off-guard, word soon started to spread about an IndyCar street race being talked about again.

In all honesty, I didn’t pay too much attention to the IndyCar Nashville street race rumors. I figured it was someone from one of the old organizing groups that were trying to draw a little attention away from the NASCAR announcement.

By the first of August, the story of IndyCar coming to downtown Nashville started to have legs. Keep in mind, I heard absolutely nothing about it locally. It wasn’t even garnering a mention in the news or sports talk radio. Everything I was hearing was coming out of Indianapolis. But when Roger Penske and Company came to town last Thursday, this story went from total silence locally to a major story. This wasn’t just a major sports story, it was a major news story.

To put it in perspective, I still maintain an excellent friendship with a previous boss. I’ve known her for over ten years, and she was my supervisor from 2014 to 2017. She is a native of Russia and came to this country when she was about 15. When I say she has absolutely no interest in motor racing, that is a gross understatement. I couldn’t even get her to watch a single lap when her countryman, Mikhail Aleshin, was in the series. I had lunch with her this past Friday and she was talking about the potential race coming to downtown. Her husband told her about it and she said she thought it would be a great event and that they had every intention of attending.

When Penske Entertainment CEO Mark Miles was interviewed on the NBCSN race broadcast this weekend, he was discussing when the 2021 schedule would be released. Just as he was wrapping up, he grinned and said that they might be adding a new event as well.

Nothing has been announced yet, but supposedly – both sides have agreed to move forward to finalize details for an IndyCar street race in downtown Nashville for 2021 in early August.

There have not been any details about a track layout, except that it would run alongside the Cumberland River and the paddock will be located near Nissan Stadium. That’s pretty vague, but that same description could be used to describe the layout proposed a few years ago. I’m hopeful that is not the case. Apparently, Tony Cotman has apparently designed the course, and I can’t imagine him giving the nod to the layout we saw for Nashville a few years ago. He designed the street course at São Paulo several years ago, as well as the course at Baltimore. Neither of those tracks remain on the schedule, but it wasn’t due to a poor track design.

Nissan Stadium is in East Nashville across the Cumberland River from downtown Nashville, where most of the popular music attractions are. It’s not a separate town like East St. Louis, but more of an area. The stadium area went through a transformation once the stadium was built, but all of the fun spots are still across the river in downtown Nashville. I can’t imagine them racing across one of the bridges that cross the river, so I am assuming that the track will actually be in East Nashville.

Kevin Lee reports that Nashville is now the No. 2 tourist destination in the US, just behind Las Vegas. I don’t know that to be a fact, but I won’t argue with him. Even with the pandemic, downtown Nashville seems to be a favorite spot for bachelorette parties. If I ever eat lunch out, it is usually on a Friday. Believe me when I say that downtown Nashville can be quite interesting on a Friday afternoon in warm weather.

I do think this will be a homerun for Nashville and the NTT IndyCar Series for many years to come – if it happens. Will it be a great event? Definitely. Will it be a great race? That remains to be seen.

I do think it will happen. Roger Penske didn’t come to town last week to tour the Ryman Auditorium. Nor do I think he would be in on the beginning discussions where he is just kicking the tires. He came to give his final approval and from what we are hearing from both sides – he gave it. I would count on coming to the Music City Grand Prix next August. It should be fun and I think it will live up to the hype.

George Phillips

7 Responses to “It Should Live Up to the Hype”

  1. We plan to be in the US Aug/Sept in 2022 so if this becomes a permanent fixture then we’ll be there!

  2. Nat Krieger Says:

    It’s all going to come down to if the local community buys in and if whomever is promoting/running the event is legitimate.. these are the two main reasons Baltimore failed. I do have more faith in this coming off now that Penske is running the series.. we have a management team that knows contracts and agreements and certainly seems more adept at the political game than H-G were..

  3. billytheskink Says:

    Glad to see a city with a healthy interest in welcoming motorsports. Would be happy to see Nashville join the schedule.

  4. i agree about the bachelorette parties.
    when the NFL draft was there, the BPs
    could not get into bars/restaurants because
    they were already “booked” for the weekend.
    there were a LOT of angry women in town.

  5. Kyle HB Donnelly Says:

    Hear me out:

    3.3-mile course, Woodland St (S/F and pits by stadium), Interstate Dr, US-41/Rosa Parks Dr across the River and around the statehouse to Broad Way, Broad to the river, 1st Ave back to Woodland.

    Goes by all the greatest hits, the loop around the statehouse would be spectacular, couple of decent passing zones…

    That, or Fairgrounds Speedway!

    • Kyle HB Donnelly Says:

      Maybe 2nd Ave instead of 1st… better runoff at the end of Broad and a little chicane back onto Woodland

  6. I may now have my away race picked for 2021!!

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