SRX Racing Comes to Nashville

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Although the NTT IndyCar Series is on a bit of a hiatus right now, that doesn’t mean we can’t get our racing fix somewhere. What better way to get it than watching some former IndyCar stars at historic Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway.

The Camping World SRX Series closed out its inaugural season in fine fashion Saturday night. The series featured twelve cars with nine drivers that drove in all six races. On Friday, I mistakenly omitted Willy T. Ribbs in the IndyCar category. I always figured he ran more NASCAR Truck races than IndyCar. While Ribbs did run in twenty-three Truck races and four NASCAR Cup races, Willy T. ran in forty-seven IndyCar races in his career. My mistake. The other IndyCar drivers to run all races were Helio Castroneves, Marco Andretti and Paul Tracy. Tony Kanaan ran in four of the six.

After seeing what I saw on Saturday night, I would call the first season of SRX a success. Like the IROC series in its later years; there is too much similarity with this series and NASCAR. I would prefer to see them adopt rules from other series, but overall – I would call the series a success.

There was a huge crowd on-hand. It was deemed a sellout at 14,000, and I believe it. Some said it was the largest crowd at Fairgrounds Speedway in over twenty-five years. When we watched the replay on Sunday, Allen Bestwick claimed it was the largest crowd there since the mid-seventies. Whatever the case, seats came at a premium.

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We learned a few lessons from this experience. If they come back here next year and we go, it won’t be a last minute decision. We decided on Monday night that we would go on Saturday. That was mistake No. 1. By that time, all of the good seats up high were sold out. There was nothing left, except General Admission down low. We figured it didn’t matter. They advertised pit-passes you could exchange your ticket for on the day of the race, for a nominal fee.

The SRX Racing started at 7:00 pm CDT. We figured we would leave our house at 5:00, get to the track by 5:30 and be able to get out pit passes at the ticket office. We figured we’d be in the pits by 6:00. This was mistake No. 2.

Susan’s son, Eric, wanted to go with us. After all, Tony Kanaan has been his favorite driver since his first Indianapolis 500 in 2004. Who knows how many more times we will get to see him race? With pit passes, maybe he could get a chance to say hello to his favorite driver again. Eric showed up at our house at 5:53 pm. Mistake No. 3.

With me driving about as fast as the cars we were about to watch, we finally arrived at the Fairgrounds at 6:20 pm. When we asked the people taking our tickets about pit-passes, they first looked at us like we had two heads. Then someone finally explained that we had to do that on the other side of the track, which was about a three block walk – after we had already paid $10 to park the car. Susan really wanted to be in the pits, but we had no time and she sure couldn’t walk that far and then all the way back. Her health is improving nicely, but she still lacks stamina – especially on a hot muggy evening. We opted to sit in the stands.

One other thing we did not realize was that there had been racing going on all day. The gates opened at 10:00 am, and there was racing going on starting at noon. By the time we go there, all of the General Admission seats had long been staked out and the crowd was feeling no pain. We were unsure if we were even going to find three seats together, but we finally found some seating in the last section toward Turn One – five rows from the bottom.

At first, I wondered if we would even be able to see the cars, but that turned out to be no problem. I took the following video of the first lap and a half, at the start of the second heat race.

As gar as the racing goes, it was entertaining. I appreciate the fact that I got to watch Bill Elliott battle his son, Chase, for the race win in the feature; as Chase prevailed and Bill finished third. Tony Stewart finished second and also wrapped up the championship. In his post-race interview, he noted the importance that he was the last IROC champion and the first SRX champion. That’s a pretty impressive feat in my book.

Being an IndyCar fan, I was bummed that they did not give a better showing. Helio Castroneves was untouchable in the second heat race, as he pulled away from the rest of the field. In the feature, he started sixth and quickly made his way up to second. For several laps, he did his best to get around Bill Elliott but could never pull it off. When one of the planned cautions (another thing I don’t like) came out on Lap 25, Helio was alongside the elder Elliott for the restart and dropped like a stone. He had used up his tires in trying to get around Elliott.

It was not a good night for the IndyCar guys. Paul Tracy finished fifth, but was booed every time his name was mentioned – although his boos were nothing compared to those that were directed to our very unpopular mayor, who gave the command to start engines. Tracy was glad to assume the role of villain and ended up being the guy everyone loved to hate. Tony Kanaan finished seventh, Helio Castroneves ended up ninth, while Marco Andretti finished eleventh After he and Tracy got together with five laps to go. Willy T. Ribbs finished last with a DNF.

It was quaint being at historic Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway, but unless we are talking about the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a facility built in 1904 tends to show its age. Sometimes, quaint is cute as in the potted flower gardens they had alongside the outside of the retaining wall. Some were better than others, but this was the one directly in front of our section.

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Other times, quaint means it hasn’t kept up with the times. I’m not sure I’ve ever waited as long to get out of IMS parking after a race, as I did for them to route 14,000 people out of the one parking lot with a one-lane road leading out. There seemed to be only three concession stands when we arrived, but when I went to get a beer after the first heat race, they had all closed. I ended up finding one stand with three people running it, with a huge single-file line behind it. The good news was that a tall 16-ounce Budweiser that was ice-cold (which was welcomes on such a hot steamy night) only cost $6. That same beer would have been double that, at a Titans game.

Leaving the race, we ran into Josef Newgarden in the stands. We spoke and then ended up following him out to the same parking lot, just a few feet behind him. He was with another guy, and Newgarden was in a non-descript T-shirt and a baseball cap. As we followed him, we noticed not a soul spoke to him, as he was able to roam about without anyone recognizing him. I remarked to Susan that had we been at IMS or any IndyCar track, he would have been mauled. But in his own hometown, he’s able to walk about with no one realizing who he is.

Of course, a trip to any race track would not be complete without the obligatory race track selfie.

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Overall, I would give the evening a B+. The racing was good, and most of the things that were troublesome were our own fault. Live and learn. If SRX returns next year, we will probably go. But we will arrive much earlier with a better plan on getting pit passes squared away. But if we do end up sitting in the stands, we will secure the premium seating at an earlier date. We will also take our own cooler and get there in time to stake out our own seats. The racing was entertaining and we were at a local race track on a Saturday night watching IndyCar veterans representing five Indianapolis 500 wins. That’s not bad during an IndyCar hiatus, with the Music City Grand Prix less than three weeks away.

George Phillips

5 Responses to “SRX Racing Comes to Nashville”

  1. Alan Stewart Says:

    I wasn’t a fan of the planned caution after the first race; but, after I realized its purpose (to try to keep the field packed up), I actually was fine with it. This is entertainment, pure and simple. Recognized as such, the planned caution isn’t that big of a deal. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing these cars on a variety of circuits, including some that I’d never seen before. Slinger needs to remain on the schedule! I really hope there’s a Season Two and that they continue to visit tracks across the country.

  2. billytheskink Says:

    Glad you all enjoyed it. I thought the series put on a good show at most of its races and had an interesting mix of winner backgrounds (1 NASCAR, 1 Trans Am, 1 Indycar, 1 Modified, 2 Tony Stewart), something IROC did not really have in its last decade. Most of the drivers were competitive at moments, if not throughout. Ribbs was the only driver who consistently ran at the back, it seemed, though he improved over the course of the season. He is also the oldest driver out there and the guy who has spent the most time away from racing in recent years.

    Barring some type of massive financial mismanagement coming to light, I would expect SRX back next year. It has generally been well-received by fans and media alike, and the TV ratings have been solid and very consistent, which is no small feat for anything unestablished on television these days. CBS, Stewart, Evernham, and everyone involved have got to be pleased.

  3. SkipinSC Says:

    On behalf of the “Artist formerly known as Pressdog,” and myself, we would be interested in seeing if Danica would give this a try next year. She did have moderate success in IndyCar and NASCAR.

  4. Chris Lukens Says:

    I’m glad you went and I’m glad you enjoyed yourselves. Short track is where it’s at ! I watched all six races and throughly enjoyed them all. I even skipped a local sprint car race to watch one.

    I keep seeing people complain that SRX is WWF on a race track. I invite those people to go back and watch Marco stick his nose between Stewart and Luke Fenhaus at Slinger. You can’t tell me that all three of those guys weren’t going for it.

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