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Racing revival possible

Larry Woody • Updated Oct 11, 2016 at 9:00 AM

Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto said he was approached by someone interested in reviving racing – along with other events – at Nashville Superspeedway, and he referred them to prospective new owner Panattoni Development Co.

Hutto said he was not at liberty to disclose additional information, other than to confirm that a “pitch” was made to keep the Gladeville track “a sporting venue with racing on two or three different levels.”

Panattoni officials could not be reached for comment, but earlier indicated its willingness to let someone operate the track while the rest of the 1,400 acres are developed for industrial use.

Hutto said his personal preference is “to keep the track operating.”

Lebanon Mayor Philip Craighead agreed. 

“I’d love to have racing back,” Craighead said. “I would encourage it.”

Craighead said he has heard reports a party is interested in acquiring the track, “but none of that group has contacted me personally.”

Hutto said the recent proposal involves making the track a “multi-use facility” for a variety of activities in addition to racing.

One potential use could be a testing facility for the numerous automobile manufacturers around the area. Former NASCAR track owner Gary Baker has made a similar suggestion.

There’s no question that Panattoni would prefer to sell or lease the track rather than demolish it. It is a state-of-the-art motorsports facility built at a reported cost of more than $25 million. If the track could be sold or leased, it would allow Panattoni to recoup some of the $44.7 million price tag for the property.

The track has sat idle for six years after owner Dover Motorsports suspended racing due to low attendance. Dover announced the sale of the track two years ago, but that sale fell through, and it was put back on the market. In August Panattoni announced plans to buy the property, with the transaction scheduled to be finalized early next year.

Dover ran second- and third-tier NASCAR races at the Superspeedway but was unable to land a top-tier Cup race. The prospect of a Cup race remains doubtful, and since the other races failed to draw, it’s unclear what races a new owner might successfully run.

The Indy Racing League competed at the Superspeedway for seven years and drew fair crowds, but it’s unlikely the IRL would return.

The Sports Car Club of America has used the Superspeedway’s road course in the past, but its events draw few spectators and generate little revenue.

A drag strip, originally included in Dover’s plans, might draw well. But building it would require additional financial investment.

For awhile, Dover generated revenue by leasing the track to race teams for testing, but two years ago NASCAR disallowed such tests.

Baker, who has operated some of the top racetracks in the sport, including Bristol and Atlanta speedways, expressed interest in acquiring the track when Dover initially put it on the market. He said the Superspeedway could succeed “under certain conditions,” including corporate involvement and reconfiguration of the track itself.

“As the track was designed, the racing wasn’t very good,” Baker said. “That’s why it struggled with attendance.”

Baker said it would cost about $4 million to redesign the track. That investment would come at a time when racing attendance is slumping, even for premier NASCAR Cup races.

Terrell Davis, editor of Middle Tennessee Racing News, has followed the Superspeedway developments from the outset and is hopeful but skeptical.

“I’d like to see racing continue there, although realistically it’s a long shot,” Davis said. “But the fact that Panattoni is willing to sell or lease the track to someone means there’s still hope.”

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