Saturday, August 13, 2022

2022 SRX Series Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway track guide: Notable drivers, local All-Star, biggest races

So often in auto racing, the ideas of racing in big markets and racing at the grassroots level are thought to be mutually exclusive. But in Nashville, Tenn., that isn’t the case in the slightest.

Located on Wedgewood Avenue and only a stone’s throw away from the downtown entertainment district, the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway stands as one of the most prestigious and primely-located local short tracks in all of the country. And on Saturday, for the second time, the century-old speedway will play host to the Camping World SRX Series, which mirrors the Fairgrounds’ combination of grassroots racing and national significance.

After Nashville Fairgrounds served as the site of the SRX finale last summer, a race won by NASCAR Cup Series interloper Chase Elliott, the speedway returns this year as the final asphalt track of the season. And unlike last year, where the local drivers of the Fairgrounds sat and watched as SRX took to the track, one prominent Nashville driver is getting the opportunity to prove his worth against the rest of the SRX field.

Here is a re-introduction to Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway, and a small glimpse into this track’s long and storied history made by the many famous drivers who have raced there.

Biggest Races

The flagship event at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway is the All-American 400 held each fall. Originally conceived as a race between the greatest short track racers in the country, the All-American 400 has indeed become one of the biggest late model races in the nation. The All-American 400 complements the weekly series that compete at the Nashville Fairgrounds, which presents one of the more notable track championships sought after by local drivers and touring late model stars alike.

The Fairgrounds had a long history as a prominent stop on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule, with Cup races being held annually from 1958 all the way until 1984. The track would later be added to the schedules of what are now the NASCAR Xfinity Series and Camping World Truck Series until 2000, after which the track’s dates were moved to Nashville Superspeedway in nearby Lebanon, Tenn.

Notable Drivers

Examine the list of drivers who have come from Nashville Fairgrounds, and you will find the names of some of the greatest drivers in all of Tennessee and all the country. Arguably the greatest driver to hail from the speedway is NASCAR Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip, who is joined by a long list of notable NASCAR names to have won the track championship: Coo Coo Marlin and his son, two-time Daytona 500 winner Sterling Marlin; Jimmy Means; NASCAR Truck champion Bobby Hamilton; Chad Chaffin; and more.

Although the Nashville-to-NASCAR pipeline is not as clear as it once was, Nashville Fairgrounds continues to produce local legends to this day. Recent track champions and annual forces at the speedway include Willie Allen, Cole Williams, Michael House and Dylan Fetcho.

Local All-Star

Earlier this year, several Nashville Fairgrounds track champions were put up for a Fan Vote to determine who would get the opportunity to race in SRX. In the end, it was Cole Williams who ended up winning the vote and getting the chance to race. Williams is a two-time track champion in pro late model competition, having won the title in 2014 and 2016, and last year won the All-American 400 for the first time in his career.

Speaking to CBS Sports at Nashville Fairgrounds’ season opener in April, Williams spoke of how eager he was to potentially race in SRX and showcase his abilities before a new, national audience far beyond both the Fairgrounds and his native Missouri.

“It has a huge audience. It opens my opportunity of kind of putting my name out there, showing my talent to a whole new audience,” Williams said. “Of course they’re all race fans, so they’re out there and watch this stuff … but not everybody has that access to see our races all the time or the outreach there — so being able to have that bigger spotlight to maybe go out there and perform would be a huge opportunity for me.”

Williams will pull double duty between SRX and the track’s Masters of the Pros 150 on what could end up being a very important weekend for his career. After losing his ride with Rackley W.A.R., Williams has returned to the seat of the No. 46 for Anthony Campi Racing to resume his pursuit of another track championship.

Did You Know?

One of the last NASCAR Cup Series races at Nashville Fairgrounds featured a controversial finish which to this day remains one of the more inexplicable scoring gaffes in the sport’s history. In May 1984, Darrell Waltrip appeared on his way to certain victory when a crash coming to the white flag brought out the yellow flag. But in the confusion as to whether  the white flag had come out before the yellow flag was displayed, Waltrip’s teammate Neil Bonnett wound up racing Waltrip to the checkered flag, crossing the line ahead of Waltrip by a nose.

Both drivers went to Victory Lane thinking they had won, prompting a scoring controversy that lasted several days. According to Waltrip, the white and yellow flags had been displayed together, meaning the race was over and would finish under caution once Waltrip crossed the start/finish line. But Bonnett had raced Waltrip as though the white flag had come out before the yellow flag, which created a “race back to the finish line” scenario (in this era, the field was not frozen at the moment of caution). And initially, Bonnett was declared the winner.

According to longtime NASCAR journalist Steve Waid, it took NASCAR 48 hours to resolve the situation, with longtime Winston Cup director Dick Beaty eventually issuing a mea culpa that Waltrip was the winner and that the sanctioning body had acted erroneously in allowing the race to continue after the yellow flag was displayed. The Cup Series raced at the Fairgrounds once more in July, but the track was dropped from the schedule after the 1984 season and has yet to return.

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