Saturday Night at the Races

We are going to a race in Nashville. Many people have probably said that over this past summer. If you are a NASCAR fan, you could have said it back in June. The NASCAR Cup Series made its first-ever visit to Nashville Superspeedway on June 20. We were in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin that day for the IndyCar race at Road America. Had we been in town, I doubt I would have made the trek out to that track. That’s more than a fifty mile drive from our home in west Nashville just to see what I figured would be a boring race. From what I’ve heard, it was.

In three weeks, we will be there when the NTT IndyCar Series comes to Music City to run the streets of downtown Nashville. There has been so much hype around that race, I’m hopeful it can meet everyone’s expectations.

But I’m not talking about the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix either. So what race are we going to? We are going to the Camping World SRX Series race tomorrow night at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway. This is the season finale for the inaugural season of the Superstar Racing Experience. To any true race fan, there is nothing quite as pure as spending a warm Saturday night at a local race track.

In a nutshell, the Camping World SRX Series is very loosely based on the same concept as the old IROC Series (International Race of Champions). Originally, IROC featured current drivers from all forms of racing in identically prepared Porsches, that raced at Riverside and the road course at Daytona.

The first season in 1973-74 featured twelve drivers. The list which reads like a Who’s Who in motor racing. Mark Donohue won the championship followed by (in order): Peter Revson, Bobby Unser, David Pearson, George Follmer, AJ Foyt, Emerson Fittipaldi, Denis Hulme, Bobby Allison, Richard Petty, Gordon Johncock and Roger McCluskey. In the later years, IROC devolved into cars that were more like stock cars and raced primarily on NASCAR ovals.

Sponsorship woes eventually doomed the all-star racing series in the offseason after the 2006 IROC season. IROC went on hiatus for the 2007 season, but they never returned. For the record, Tony Stewart won the last IROC championship in 2006. Ironically, he and Ray Evernham have founded the Camping World SRX Series, with a somewhat similar theme.

Like IROC, SRX races twelve cars in each race. The IndyCar drivers that will be in tomorrow night’s race are: Helio Castroneves, Paul Tracy, Marco Andretti and Tony Kanaan. Other drivers include Tony Stewart, Bill Elliott, Chase Elliott, Michael Waltrip, Bobby Labonte, Willy T. Ribbs, Ernie Francis, Jr. and Hailie Deegan.

I’m going to make a confession here. I watched the first SRX race at Stafford Motor Speedway in Connecticut and I was bored to death. Susan fell asleep on the couch after about fifteen minutes into the telecast. I stuck with it, but I was so bored that I did not watch any of the next two races. We did watch the race at Lucas Oil Raceway (formerly Indianapolis Raceway Park, or just IRP) a couple of weeks ago and found it to be much more entertaining. I meant to watch last week’s race at Slinger Speedway in Wisconsin, but I flat-out forgot to.

Given Susan’s slumber during the first race, I didn’t expect much enthusiasm from her when I suggested we go to the race at Fairgrounds Speedway this weekend. To my surprise, she quickly said she wanted to go. She immediately got online to purchase tickets. Unfortunately, all of the more expensive seats in the upper stands were sold out. We did manage to get tickets in the lower area for $35 each. Given the fact that parking is free and a Titans game is about triple that – I thought that wasn’t too bad a price.

Fairgrounds Speedway is an interesting place. It was built in 1903 as a half-mile track and opened in 1904 – five years before the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In September of 1915, the track started hosting races that featured many of the same cars and drivers from that ran in the Indianapolis 500. In 1958, the track first hosted what is now known as NASCAR Cup.

In 1969, the track was extended to a 5/8-mile length and the banking was raised to 35°. In the seventies, it was decided the high-banking was too high, so they lowered the banking to 18°. The 5/8 mile length with 18° banking is the current configuration of the track today.

In August of 2010, I wrote an article on this site about Fairgrounds Speedway. At that time, the old track seemed to be destined for the wrecking ball. Our mayor at the time was on a crusade to raze the track and turn the space into a greenway. It appeared to be all but a formality that the track was doomed. Since I posted that article almost eleven years ago, I’m happy to report that the mayor’s quest ended up going before the voters and it was soundly defeated. It ended up being the signature defeat of Mayor Karl Dean. In 2018, he ran for governor and was trounced in the general election. His plans to demolish the race track he fought so hard against, came back to haunt him many times in the campaign.

Marco Andretti won last week’s SRX race at Slinger Speedway in Wisconsin. Tony Stewart leads the points heading into tomorrow night’s season finale. Marco Andretti is third and Helio Castroneves is fifth. Stewart has a pretty big lead, but I would love to see one of the IndyCar drivers win in Nashville tomorrow night. I know so little about this series or some of the non-IndyCar drivers that I won’t even try to predict a winner. I’m so bad at that anyway, it probably does many drivers a favor.

Tune in tomorrow night on CBS at 8:00 pm EDT, to catch the season finale of the inaugural SRX season. We are looking forward to being there. It will be a nice appetizer to lead us into the Music City Grand Prix three weekends from now.

George Phillips

5 Responses to “Saturday Night at the Races”

  1. James T Suel Says:

    George I think you will enjoy the race. I went to Slinger and IRP both were good races and a lot of fun. Brought back a lot of memories from back in the 70s when I ran late models and modified s. Have fun.

  2. I’ve watched a couple of the races. I was entertained. It’s kind of gimmicky and I have no idea of the ratings, but I think it’s going to work. Saturday nights, learning the history of these legendary short tracks, different surfaces, drivers from different series of all different ages, short races for short attention spans, highlighting personalities to give you heroes and villians, a set time slot for broadcast, they’re doing a lot right. I wonder if there’s anything Indycar could learn from SRX, because I bet NASCAR is paying attention.

  3. Buce Waine Says:

    Have revised the listing and added WillyT. Ribbs to the Indy Car drivers group.

  4. billytheskink Says:

    SRX really learned a lot of lessons from their first race and the subsequent adjustments that they have made seem to have worked. The racing action has been solid since they showed up for race 2 and the driver lineup has always been interesting (though a couple of drivers are proving to well past their post-prime, even, and I do wish Jenson Button had been able to make it over as originally announced). Between the solid crowds, multiple sponsorships, and decent TV ratings, it looks like this thing will stick around and perhaps even grow. That is very encouraging for a sport that has otherwise largely been struggling and fading.

    You all have fun tomorrow night.

  5. Paul Tracy got into it with Hailie Deegan last weekend. He has had a problem with someone every race. Expect him to have a damaged car 5 minutes into the first heat.

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