An Alternative for the Music City Grand Prix?

As we learned a few weeks ago, the Tennessee Titans are planning to build a new stadium to be ready for play in the fall of 2026. So far, there has not been a ton of resistance – so it looks as though this might happen. If it does it will greatly impact the Music City Grand Prix while the new stadium is under construction, since it will be going in the same spot that serves as the IndyCar paddock.

The current stadium will be razed, once the new stadium opens up. What the new track looks like is anyone’s guess.

The Music City Grand Prix has one more year remaining on the existing contract. Even if the stadium deal passes, it is unlikely an construction will begin before the 2023 edition takes place next August. After that is where all the speculation begins.

Some have suggested that they run in another area of town for the next two to three years. Others say the race should relocate to Nashville Superspeedway, where IndyCar ran from 2001 through 2008. While I always enjoyed going to those events, the actual races there were not scintillating. I, myself, speculated that the race would elect to take a one-year hiatus after the 2023 event, then just quietly never come back as we’ve seen so many times in the past with other events that were forced to take a so-called hiatus.

I saw something earlier this week that made me think of another alternative. This suggestion is more than just a little out there, and I would never propose it as a long-term alternative. But for a couple of years, it might be fun and it might provide better racing than what we’ve seen in the crash fests that have been around Nissan Stadium for the past.

Please hear me out on this and watch the video below, before officially declaring me insane.

Most have heard the NBC booth crew refer to statistician Russ Thompson. Russ is from Nashville, has been in that role since forever and has the stories that you might imagine goes with that job. He is also the official track historian or the old Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway, an historic track that has been around since 1903. Fairgrounds Speedway used to host NASCAR Winston Cup races until 1984, and many of the legendary drivers still have fond memories of the place.

Russ grew up going to tracks like Salem, Springfield and Winchester and has reels and reels of old home movies to document his trips there. Over the years, he has digitized a lot of his historic footage and posted them to his website and You Tube Channel. On Monday, he posted some video footage on Twitter that he had just come across and did not realized he had not digitized it.

Tony Bettenhausen, Jr. had made a visit to the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway to run in a Late Model Stock Car race in September of 1988. For a demonstration, he brought along his Indy car to have on display and to take some laps on the historic one-half mile. Russ remarked in his tweet how good the car sounded, which it did.

But as I saw, what I’m assuming is a 1987 Lola with a Cosworth DFX, make laps around the track – it dawned on me that the car did not look that out of place. Not only did it sound good, it looked good. The car did not look near as big as I expected. Then I got to wondering if it would be possible to fit 26-28 Indy cars on the track. It would definitely be a throwback to true short-track racing, and the top-speeds would never get very high – but it would certainly produce a challenge to even the best of drivers.

Tony Stewart’s SRX Racing series has run the Nashville Fairgrounds track in both years of its existence. A handful of (semi-current) IndyCar drivers have run on it, including Tony Kanaan, Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Helio Castroneves.

Am I crazy? Would it even be possible to conduct an IndyCar race on such a short oval? I never really thought about it before, but after seeing Bettenhausen take a few laps at admittedly slow speed, my mind got to turning. The Music City Grand Prix is going to have to come up with a Plan B, while the new Titans stadium is under construction. Is this a viable alternative? Let me know if you think I’m on to something, or if I’ve completely gone off my rocker.

George Phillips

15 Responses to “An Alternative for the Music City Grand Prix?”

  1. Jim in Wilmington Says:

    What a fantastic idea! Has a safer barrier already been installed? If not, I wonder how expensive that would be.

    • billytheskink Says:

      I don’t believe the track has a SAFER barrier installed (it did not appear so when watching SRX… in fact, those broadcasts show that it still has exposed Armco on parts of the inside), though there has been much talk of adding it for NASCAR’s long-discussed “will they-won’t they” return.

      Now, Indycar could pull a Bud Adams… Stadium construction in Nashville? Just take your show to Memphis! The Memphis track is longer and it has a SAFER barrier. It would probably draw better than the Tennessee Oilers did in 1997 too.

  2. Jack in Virginia Says:

    Is it possible to incorporate some of the roads in the fairgrounds to make a hybrid street course-oval? That might be a way to get a bit more length to the course, if necessary.

  3. I love and have been wanting short ovals on the schedule… This would fit that perfectly… Martinsville would be great also.

  4. You want to hear crazy? Put the grid in hyped-up shifter karts and then let them run. Include a promising young local Kart driver and/or an old vet (Mario / Tracy / Pruitt / Michael / Danica) in the list of competitors and you will have IndyCars’ answer to SRX! Do it as an exhibition race with no points BUT big $ to the winning team and driver. I would think most every IndyCar driver would love getting back into a souped up GoKart again. That would level the field and you wouldn’t have a 90% chance of seeing a Penske / Ganassi / Andretti-owned victor. You could also find very interesting local street / road course lay-outs in the area as the venue with a Kart formatted event. Maybe an IndyCar Le Mans-type lay-out in the hills of the TN country-side like an Elkhart Lake? Get Hy-Vee involved. BOOM! You have an exciting event.

  5. I have to totally disagree. IndyCars are way too fast for this small of a track, which is just under 5/8 of a mile. In fact, I believe that IndyCars shouldn’t be on a track smaller than 1 mile, which knocks out Richmond, and you could almost lump Iowa in with this too. It’s a safety issue, and while lots of fans clamor for Richmond, it, along with the Fairgrounds Speedway are just too small for a field of 26-28 IndyCars running around there.

    • billytheskink Says:

      A lot could be done to make a race at Fairgrounds Speedway safe with Indycars: making the necessary improvements to the track’s fencing and walls, limiting the number of cars on track to 10-14 by holding heats and a feature that not everyone qualifies for, and the like. But after all of that effort, I doubt the racing would be very entertaining.

      • Sorry, but heat races are too much like NASCAR stage racing, just another way to manipulate outcomes. IndyCar is real racing, the Fairgrounds Speedway just isn’t large enough to hold it.

        • billytheskink Says:

          Indycar has conducted heat races before, and plenty of “real” racing series use heat races to pare down their entry lists at tracks that cannot hold their entire field.

          I would think the issue at Fairgrounds Speedway would be more that there probably isn’t enough straightaway length or room in the turns for Indycars to run the speeds necessary to safely make passes regardless of how many or few cars are on the track.

  6. I thought the same thing when I first saw SRX race there over the summer. I wondered if IndyCar could do it. That said, I think I agree with the previous poster, Steve, that it’s too small for IndyCars. Maybe just go back to Nashville (I refurse to call it ‘Super’) Speedway for a couple seasons. I know the races weren’t usually too exciting there, but then again, Texas ain’t exactly been must-see tv the past few years either. At least it’s an oval, and I’m one of those older creatures who still like seeing IndyCars go round and round from time to time.

    • billytheskink Says:

      Perhaps the show at Nashville SS could improve with a second groove rubbering practice session like Indycar held this year at Texas and Gateway. It was certainly effective at Texas, which last year had the most passes for the lead (in total and on track) of any race outside of the 500 by a wide margin. Nashville SS is concrete, though, which could play differently.

  7. billytheskink Says:

    While I would be happy to see Indycar take the steps to try this and I don’t want to be pessimistic, it seems like a rather long long-shot. Indycars racing on a track as short as the Fairgrounds Speedway is unprecedented with modern Indycars:

    – The last sanctioned race on a track close to the length of Fairgrounds Speedway was a 1959 non-points race on the dirt at Williams Grove, PA. It was scheduled for 50 laps/25 miles but ended after 13 laps due to rain. There were 16 entries and 13 starters. Rodger Ward won while a lap 2 wreck claimed the life of Van Johnson, just one month after he took a potential career breakthrough win at Langhorne.

    – The last sanctioned pavement race on such a track was another non-points event, a 50 lap/25 mile race at Dayton, OH that saw 14 cars take the green and Ed Elisian take what would have been his first (and only) career victory had the race not been an exhibition.

    – The last points paying race on such a track was at the Pittsburgh-Bridgeville board track in 1930. Wilbur Shaw took the victory over 11 others after pole-sitter Shorty Cantlon’s engine went sour early on (and eventually quit). In a coincidental twist, just a few weeks earlier the AAA championship cars raced at Akron’s half-mile board track where Shortly Cantlon took the win after pole-sitter Wilbur Shaw suffered some early trouble. Both of these races were 200 laps/100 miles.

    I’m not saying it can’t be done, but it would challenging indeed to put on an Indycar race in the confines of a track that is a little over a half-mile in length. It would be a heck of get over on NASCAR, though, which has been nudging the track to get in order for their return for years now.

  8. I don’t believe in racing on tracks that are less than a mile length.
    But I thank you for blogging.
    praying for Susan and you

  9. Too small a racetrack for IndyCars to race well. If I can be proven wrong, so be it. I just don’t see the straightaways being long enough to allow a trailing car to get a run on a car ahead.

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