What Happened To Nashville Motor Speedway? [Expert Guide!]

When you think of Nashville, Tennessee, United States of America, the first thing that probably comes to mind is Music City. But, aside from music, what happened to the once-thriving motor racing scene? Was it really as bad as everyone thought it was? From humble beginnings in the 1950s, Nashville gradually became one of the major motorsport hubs of the world. But after several years of declining attendances and constant financial hardship, the iconic speedway was closed down. It was a shocking blow for the motor racing community, and arguably one of the biggest tragedies in the history of American motorsport. So, let’s take a look back at the decline of Nashville Motor Speedway and the factors which led to its eventual closure.

Building A Renowned Racing Hub

The beginning of the end for Nashville Motor Speedway really began in the early 1970s, when domestic racing declined in popularity. With more people watching television than going to the cinema, and with the advent and rise of VHS (Video Home Shopping), people were increasingly able to stay at home and watch movies instead of going out to the cinema. This, of course, affected attendance rates at live events, like sports and music concerts. In fact, throughout the entire 20th century, live events had the biggest influence on shaping society. Up to that point, people went to live events because they thought they would be able to engage with other people and have an experience which they could share with others. Radio and television took off during and after the Second World War, and these new mass communications channels allowed people to stay informed of the world around them without having to travel to faraway places. After the war, people wanted to stay at home and be closer to nature, which radio and television reception allowed them to do. The combination of television and radio meant that everyone could now be a broadcaster, which in turn caused a whole generation of on-air talent to emerge.

Nashville Motor Speedway was one of the first sports venues to fully comprehend the changing face of sports and entertainment, and took steps to ensure that their business stayed relevant. While many venues simply closed down or stopped promoting sports, Nashville recognized the value which the automobile held in today’s world and decided to cash in on the trend. Thus, the iconic speedway opened their arms to the world of motorsport, and in the process, helped to establish the sport as a whole in the United States. In the early 1950s, the Indianapolis 500 was the biggest event in American motorsport. However, as the decade progressed, the gap between the big-name racers and the average Joe grew. In response, Nashville decided to invite the little guy down to join the fun. Thus, the short-track scene was born. Through providing a place for smaller teams to compete, Nashville helped to expand the sport and ensure that it remained accessible to all.

The Decline Of Attendances And Sponsorships

Despite its best efforts, Nashville Motor Speedway experienced an attendance decline throughout the 1970s. This was mainly due to the sport itself declining in popularity in the United States. Between 1973 and 1976, the Indy 500 declined by 50%. While this may seem like a huge number, it is worth noting that this was before the pandemic, when large-scale events were still relatively common. In fact, the Indy 500 alone had an attendance of roughly 275,000 in 2019, which is almost 75,000 less than in the early 1970s.

The 1970s were also a decade of declining sponsorships. Between 1969 and 1979, the number of Major League Baseball, National Football League, and National Hockey League sponsorships dropped by 45%, 56%, and 49% respectively. This was mainly due to the increasing popularity of franchises in the newly formed United States Football League, which in turn led to the contraction of the NFL in the decade following the 1970s.

It was a tough few years for Nashville. After successfully establishing themselves as a motorsport hub, they had to deal with the fact that their attendances were declining year after year, and their sponsors were starting to jump ship. It was, as the saying goes, a bit of a death spiral. But, despite their best efforts, Nashville was unable to reverse this trend. After the 1976 season, the last remaining fixtures were turned off, and the speedway closed its doors for good.

Racing On A Smaller Level

While the big three racing series decreased in size, the development of IndyCar and Formula One allowed smaller teams to gain some ground. This was certainly the case for Team Penske, who purchased the rights to an old Formula One car and converted it into a competitive outfit. Over the course of the next decade, they won the Indianapolis 500 six times, and in the process, established themselves as the preeminent American racing team. While this was a major success for the team, it did little to alleviate the financial strain which the speedway was under. Thus, as we have already established, the decade of the 1970s was a bad one for Nashville.

Racing On A Still Smaller Level

While American motorsport was in decline, Formula One was still finding its feet, and initially, many of the biggest names retired from the sport, leaving spaces for emerging teams and drivers. In the mid-1970s, the unique and innovative nature of the Formula One season meant that it attracted a new audience, and a new set of fans. But, again, while this was undoubtedly a step in the right direction, it didn’t solve Nashville’s money problems. Attendances at the Nashville Grand Prix initially soared, but this turned out to be the high-water mark of an attendance cycle which saw yearly dips for the rest of the decade. This was mainly down to the increasing popularity of rival NASCAR, which at the time attracted a more mainstream audience. It wasn’t until the early 1980s that Formula One started to see a noticeable increase in attendances, and Nashville was finally able to capitalize on this growing audience.

The Rise Of NASCAR

It wasn’t just American motorsport which saw a decline in the 1970s. Across the pond, the decade was similarly tough for British motorsport fans. However, as opposed to its counterpart in the United States, things changed for the better in the 1970s. This is mainly thanks to the emergence of a new breed of sportsman – the so-called ‘Ironman’. An Ironman is someone who competes in multiple endurance events – usually one per year. Because of this, the decade of the 1970s was a golden era for British endurance racing. During that time, the 24-Hour race saw a major increase in popularity, and was eventually incorporated into the IndyCar Series. In 1973 alone, there were 20 different races held across the United Kingdom, which is a record that still stands today.

In order to keep up with the ever-changing tastes of their customers, Nashville had to evolve with the times, and they decided to embrace all things American. Thus, they opened their doors to American motorsport, and ultimately, helped to establish NASCAR as an option for drivers looking for a break from the daily grind of circuit racing.

The Emergence Of eSports

Even before the advent of electronics, people already engaged with sports through gaming. In the early days, this was mainly done through playing cards or dice, but as time went on and technology improved, so did gaming. In the early 2000s, arcade machines and personal computers took over from there, and it wasn’t long before people started taking their interest in gaming and using it as a way to keep up with the results of their favorite sporting events. While this might not seem like a big deal now, in the early 2000s, competitive gaming was still considered to be a fringe sport, and it was rarely advertised or discussed at length within the mainstream media. But that is all changing now.

Today, eSports has truly hit the mainstream. Just take a look at any big corporation’s social media accounts, and you will see them promoting the merits of gaming and competitive gaming in particular. This shift happened largely because of the phenomenal success of the Call Of Duty franchise, and subsequent expansions, which are all based on the popular first-person-shooter game. But it wasn’t only Activision who benefited from the success of Call of Duty. Other major game developers and publishers saw the potential which eSports had to offer, and invested heavily in the scene, helping to elevate it from a hobby to a full-fledged sport.

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