Nashville Superspeedway was once one of the new kids on the block of the NASCAR circuit, a pathway to getting NASCAR Cup Series racing back in central Tennessee. Instead, for much of the past decade, the purr of racing engines has been silenced on this 1.33-mile oval outside Music City. Racing and revenue left the facility at the conclusion of 2011, and the future of the track remained in doubt.
Not anymore. In 2021, Wilson County, Tenn. will play host to its first Cup date, as the Nashville area gets its first top-tier stock car race since 1984. The decision by track ownership to move a date from Dover International Speedway has created some buzz over the comeback, injecting excitement during difficult economic times for the state.
It’s a remarkable turn of events for a facility that’s sat idle for almost a decade. Overgrown grass blows around the parking lots while brand new Nissans from the nearby plant fill both the interior and exterior of the racetrack. But NASCAR’s desire to switch up the schedule in 2021 made the difference in breathing fresh life into Nashville.
The move gives this superspeedway a second chance after a first life that never saw them graduate from hosting NASCAR Xfinity and Gander RV & Outdoors Truck series competition. There were still a number of memorable moments, none more so than the closing laps of the 2004 Pepsi 400. In that event, Kyle Busch and Clint Bowyer made contact upfront, wrecking the top four drivers and handing an unlikely victory to Michael Waltrip.
Some might also forget how Pastor Joe Nelms performed the pre-race prayer before the 2011 Federated Auto Parts 300. It felt like a page out of Talladega Nights as Nelms made the most hair-raising invocation of the modern era.
Invocation of the decade (and probably all time): Pastor Joe Nelms at Nashville. pic.twitter.com/g6nPNONdzj
— FOX: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) December 30, 2019
There was also that one time Kyle Busch imitated a rockstar with the guitar hand-painted by late NASCAR artist Sam Bass. I’d say more but The Tennessean continues on with a good list of the track’s top five greatest moments.
Now, Nashville Superspeedway gets to make more of them with some good news in the midst of a difficult year. Businesses in the area are looking forward to having NASCAR back in Wilson County and welcoming fans back to Lebanon, Tenn.
In particular, restaurants hammered by the COVID-19 pandemic are looking forward to a bump in crowds down the road.
“This is great news! We are excited to have NASCAR back at Nashville Superspeedway for 2021,” said Kristin Demos, vice president of brand marketing of Demos’ Brands Restaurants. The chain is popular in central Tennessee. “Not only does it bring tourism to our area, which is great for all in the hospitality industry, but NASCAR fans are some of the best patrons around. Our staff has always really enjoyed serving those traveling for the races because of how wonderfully nice and fun the fans are.”
“We are always excited to welcome new guests into our restaurants, including NASCAR fans coming from around the country,” added a spokesperson with O’Charley’s, a chain restaurant based in Nashville. “We look forward to serving them and their families while they are nearby so we can pair a great dining experience with their day at the track.”
The economic impact of a new Cup race trickles down to places you wouldn’t expect. Like Cumberland University, a staple of learning in Lebanon with well over 2,000 students. The original building on campus, Memorial Hall, is a key part of the Lebanon Skyline and can be seen all the way from the split of I-40 and I-840.
CU President Paul Stumb spoke with Frontstretch about NASCAR’s return to Wilson County and how it’s a silver lining for the community. Simply the hope of good things to come is a mental boost for residents as they struggle through the worst of the national pandemic.
“Learning that Dover Motorsports is scheduling a NASCAR Cup race at the Superspeedway here is exciting news for us in Wilson County as well as for the entire middle Tennessee region,” said Stumb. “At a time when many in our area have struggled through tornadoes, been challenged by epic unemployment numbers, are living through COVID-19 restrictions, and been overwhelmed by certain social issues, it’s good to know there is an event scheduled for next June to which we can all look forward with a great deal of enthusiasm.”
“NASCAR is such a tremendous business and a growing sport,” added Dr. Eric Landis, professor of Management at Cumberland. “I think it will most definitely provide a much-needed boost to the economy and to the morale of people across the region when they can restart their engines in a way that’s safe for drivers and fans.”
Since the last time NASCAR raced at Nashville Superspeedway, I-840 has gained many new distribution centers. It’s brought a population increase estimated at 40 percent, and the hope is these new residents rally around a major sport visiting their backyard. Bringing this type of entertainment to town could result in higher property values as people continue to see the area as a desirable place to live.
“Lebanon and Wilson County are pleased to have NASCAR return to the Nashville Superspeedway,” said Jay White, owner/broker of Agee & Johnson Realty and Auction. “It is an exciting time to share the beauty of middle Tennessee with all who travel in to see the race. NASCAR is very popular here and is glad to see the track being utilized for NASCAR races. We are looking forward to not only attending the race but to also support NASCAR’s return.”
With the schedule announcement looming, Wilson County is throwing its full weight behind Nashville Superspeedway come 2021. Central Tennessee is embracing this surprising good fortune they hope will lead to a sellout crowd next summer.
Heather Scott also contributed to this story.