Dale Earnhardt Jr. is so dedicated to the idea of NASCAR returning to Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway that he has already devoted the biggest asset the industry has for its hypothetical return.
Since retiring from full-time Cup Series competition in 2017, Earnhardt has raced once a year in the NASCAR Xfinity Series for JR Motorsports. Should Speedway Motorsports Inc. and the City of Nashville close out on an agreement to bring NASCAR back, Earnhardt has already said he will enter the first race back.
During a press conference before the ARCA, Super Late Model and Pro Late Model tripleheader over the weekend, he took it a step further and said he would race at the Fairgrounds every year until he completely retires if NASCAR comes back to the Music City.
“If they run Xfinity Series here, I’ll be here,” Earnhardt said. “I’ll run once a year. I’ll probably do that as long as I can and there should be a few more years of that. Hopefully we can get the Xfinity here soon; the next couple of years because I’d love to come out here and compete.”
Speedway Motorsports Inc., which also owns nearby Bristol Motor Speedway, is currently working with the Nashville Fair Board of Commissioners to establish the framework of such an agreement. Nashville Mayor John Cooper entered into a letter of intent to bring NASCAR back to the city, but that’s dependent on Fair Board approval.
That process will continue on Wednesday in the latest monthly meeting where Bristol Motor Speedway vice president Jerry Caldwell is expected to present the results of his community engagement. Before any deal can be signed, and before the Fair Board will vote, SMI will need to work to alleviate concerns from the nearby neighborhood.
Those concerns include the number of days the track will be open for tests, noise mitigation and economic benefits.
Earnhardt will be important to that engagement, serving as a popular and familiar face to a community that still supports stock car racing in the form of a monthly show, even as NASCAR hasn’t visited the track in 21 years.
The last time Earnhardt raced at Fairgrounds Nashville was in 1999 in the Busch Grand National Series. He also competed in that event in 1998 and raced Late Model Stocks in the weekly division from 1996-97.
It was one of his favorite stops during his formative years and one that he hopes a new generation can experience.
“I still remember the first time I came to race here,” Earnhardt said. “We came out here and tested; Jeff Green and Mark Green came with me because they had a little experience with this race track. I fell in love with the place after the first lap.”
Earnhardt made dozens of trips to the Music City during those early years.
“It was an eight-hour drive (to Nashville) with our gooseneck (trailer),” he said. “We were typically racing Friday nights in Florence, South Carolina and Saturday nights in Myrtle Beach. Any off weekend we knew exactly where we were going and that was to Nashville. The racing then was very healthy. Big car counts. It was a big track, much different than anything we had farther east.”
Even after the Cup Series left Nashville in 1984, and after Busch and the Truck Series left in 2000, Nashville has remained a top-five television market for NASCAR. Even up against a local government that has at times worked against the interests of the track, fans have continued to support it.
Earnhardt wants to reward both that history and support by racing in the next NASCAR race in Downtown Nashville.
“I knew about the history of the track, I knew about my father’s history here,” Earnhardt said. “I knew about Nashville and what Nashville was all about. So, it was always kind of perplexing to me as to why we weren’t competing here in the Cup Series and why that went away for whatever reason.”
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