Memphis Daily News Chandler Reports Nashville Ledger
» Subscribe Today!
The Power of Information
Home
The Ledger - Est. 1978 - Knoxville Edition
X

Forgot your password?
Skip Navigation LinksHome > Article
VOL. 46 | NO. 25 | Friday, June 24, 2022

Angry Fans might pass on ’22 Ally 400

Superspeedway works to overcome 2021 mistakes

By Tom Wood

Print | Front Page | Email this story

The second Ally 400, scheduled for Sunday at Nashville Superspeedway, will feature many upgrades to help make a better the fan experience.

-- Photograph Provided

A year ago, when NASCAR returned top-tier Cup Series racing to the Nashville area for the first time since 1984 with the Ally 400 at Nashville Superspeedway, the race-day experience looked like an easy victory for the track and fans.

All COVID-19 restrictions were lifted, and the race was announced as a sellout three weeks before the Father’s Day race, the first at the sparkling Gladeville track since 2011. More temporary seats were brought in, resulting in a crowd of about 40,000. Excitement was as palpable as the humidity on the 92-degree afternoon.

Things quickly veered off course.

Parking issues caused some fans to miss the first hour of racing, concession lines were long and water was scarce. The race, dominated by Kyle Larson, drew as much or more attention for what happened off the track than on it.

Those issues have haunted the race to the extent that even the most ardent fans howled for changes on social media and threatened to not attend this year’s event.

Indeed, this year’s race is not a sellout, or at least it wasn’t 10 days before the June 26 second running of the Ally 400.

In a wide-ranging interview with the Ledger, track president Erik Moses says his crew not only listened to fans’ calls for change but has gone to great lengths to correct them. He points out that while COVID restrictions were lifted for the 2021 race, the global pandemic created staffing issues every industry has also faced in the last year.

“We are obviously overjoyed with the support that we received from here in Middle Tennessee and across the country to support our first race weekend,” Moses says. “So those things went really well. The place looked beautiful, and I think it performed well.

“In terms of bumps in the road, similar to many companies last year in live event (production) last year, finding people and staffing was really difficult.”

“We were probably, in my estimation, about 200 people short of where I would have liked to have been in terms of staffing to provide the kind of fan experience that our fans deserve and that we wanted to provide them.

“Concession lines were longer than they needed to be. We had some challenges with ingress and egress into our parking lot. Those were the main two things.”

Heat management also was a key topic, and more changes have been announced in an effort to keep fans cool.

While fans are still prohibited from bringing coolers to the track, they can fill backpacks with as many bottles of water (frozen is recommended) as they can carry and bring their own food into the facility. Cooling stations, water dispensers and shade tents will be placed throughout the facility and grounds.

“Obviously, it was hot last year and looks like it may be hot this year, as well,” Moses says. Forecasters are predicting 96 degrees.

“We have no control over that, but we are instituting some changes that we think will positively address all three of those things.”

But those may not be enough to lure fans back this year.

Ardent motor sports fan John Koch – a Vanderbilt communications professor, a senior lecturer and director of debate whose areas of interest are public memory and the intersection of political culture, rhetoric and sports – says he will watch the race from home rather than the stands.

“Honestly, and it pains me to say this as I want NASCAR to thrive in Nashville, but last years’ experience was probably my worst as a NASCAR fan,” Koch says. “I attend 5-6 races a year, mostly at Atlanta, Bristol, Daytona and Talladega, and in every aspect Nashville was lackluster last year.

“The traffic situation was terrible, as it took us four hours to get from West Nashville to the track. The race was 100 laps in before we got to our seats. The line at concessions was long and took a half-hour or more. It was a hot day and they ran out of water to sell.

“I know it had been a while since the track hosted racing and it was the first time ever hosting a Cup race, so some of this is all to be expected as the track learns to manage an event of this scale.”

“However, I will be holding off on attending again until I hear the experience has become more positive.”

That’s bad news to the many who want the NASCAR-Nashville marriage to go long-term.

“Nashville and NASCAR just go together,” NASCAR driver Joey Logano says, adding he hopes local fans will take advantage of not having to travel a long distance to see the Cup race now that they have the opportunity.

“Going into those markets where fans don’t typically get to see us has been a really big win because … it’s a lot to ask somebody to drive (three to six) hours, right? And it’s kind of hard to ask somebody to make that much of a commitment.

“But if it’s in your backyard, you’re more likely to go. And I think that’s kind of what we’ve seen (in Nashville).”

Here’s a deeper look at the action and issues on and off the track.

Economic impact

Moses says the inaugural weekend of racing generated $20 million in economic impact, including $4 million in the hotel/hospitality industry last year. That’s welcome news for Wilson County mayor Randall Hutto and other officials, who credit Moses and his staff for addressing off-track issues.

“They very well exceeded expectations last year. Of course, that’s a positive or a negative,” Hutto says with a chuckle.

Last year’s race was a sellout three weeks in advance, but tickets remain for many of the 38,000 seats avaible for this year’s race.

-- Photograph Provided

“The positive was there were tremendous crowds. The negatives were dealing with traffic. Trying to have better traffic flow would be our goal for this year, getting people in and out a little bit easier.

“But it was a tremendous hit last year. Erik Moses and his crew really did a great job for the first-time show there at the Superspeedway.”

Hutto says he hopes fans will fill the stands again this year.

“I think I expect it to be even better. I think (fans will) want to come and see that in person, so I’ll look for larger crowds. It was Father’s Day weekend last year. This year, it won’t be that. So maybe some of those people that had plans last year, they couldn’t make it because of Father’s Day. So yeah, I think it will be bigger and better than it was before.”

Melanie Minter, president and CEO of the Lebanon Wilson County Chamber of Commerce, says the track’s success is also one for the county.

“The Nashville Superspeedway, returning this year to Wilson County, has a huge economic impact – as it was last year,” she says. “With our growing county and hot spot for tourism, Wilson County can now offer a variety of opportunities for different types of entertainment in Middle Tennessee, which makes the Nashville Superspeedway so important to us.”

G.C. Hixson, executive director of Wilson County’s Joint Economic & Community Development Board, looks at the bigger picture of what else is happening around the track.

“It’s a great opportunity to showcase what has happened over there,” Hixson notes. “We now have about 7 million square feet of industrial properties out there in their first phase and there’s gonna be another 7-8 million square feet of construction over the next five to six years.

“So the first thing for me is it gives us an opportunity, as you look at the race and look across the Speedway there, you see the tremendous amount of investment, jobs and economic activity out there that for the first 10 years that was not the case.

“Then you get into just the national exposure of the race event itself, the recognition that it is in Wilson County,” Hixson continues. “To be able to bring it back to life last year, take a look at what they did good and what we need to improve. I know Erik’s done a lot of work along those lines. I’m looking forward to a really big event.”

Moses says he wants to continue the relationships he’s built with city and county officials to continue for decades.

SuperSpeedway on TV

(All Times Central)

FRIDAY, JUNE 24

3 p.m.: Rackley Roofing 200 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Practice/Qualifying, FS1
4:30 p.m.: NASCAR Xfinity Series Practice, USA
5:30 p.m.: NASCAR Cup Series Practice, USA, MRN
6:30 p.m.: NASCAR RaceDay: NCWTS Nashville Live, FS1
7 p.m.: Rackley Roofing 200 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race, FS1, MRN

SATURDAY, JUNE 25

11 a.m.: NASCAR Xfinity Series Qualifying, USA
Noon: NASCAR Cup Series Qualifying, USA, MRN
2 p.m.: NASCAR Xfinity Series Countdown To Green-Nashville, USA
2:30 p.m.: Tennessee Lottery 250 NASCAR Xfinity Series race, USA, MRN
5 p.m.: NASCAR Xfinity Series Post Race-Nashville, USA

SUNDAY, JUNE 26

4 p.m.: Ally 400 NASCAR Cup Series race, NBC, MRN

“Our sanctioning agreement from NASCAR is a four-year agreement, and so this is just Year Two of that four-year deal. So we know that we will have a Cup race here for at least four years,” Moses says. “Our goal is to make certain that four years becomes 40 years – and that there is always Cup racing in Middle Tennessee and always at the Nashville Superspeedway.”

Koch calls the “positive conomic impact on the area … another reason for people from all over the country to come to Nashville and spend money. I talked to people in-person and online last year who circled the date the second it was announced because it was the perfect reason for a trip to Nashville.”

Drivers: Let’s go racing

Whether you’re at the track or watching on TV, keep an eye on the Trackhouse Racing team and its two drivers, Daniel Suárez, who made history June 12 at Sonoma by becoming the first Mexican driver to win a Cup Series race, and Ross Chastain, a two-time winner this season.

“This was the third win of the year for Nashville-based Trackhouse Racing,” Koch says. “They have become the unexpected, but pleasant story of the season.”

Suárez says he’ll take advantage of the Father’s Day break to spend time with his family in Huntersville, North Carolina, before making plans for Nashville, where he finished seventh last year.

“I’m super, super excited for Nashville,” he told the Ledger. “But, honestly, I’m trying to take one day at a time and trying to have fun (now) and then I’ll start making plans for Nashville.”

Suárez, 30, is currently in 17th place ahead, hoping to move up to make the 16-team NASCAR playoffs.

“I mean, it feels amazing, having the week off to enjoy this win a little bit longer,” he says. “The reality is that if we didn’t have the week off right now, we’d be thinking already about the next race. We wouldn’t be, you know, thinking too much about the (Sonoma) win.

“So, the fact that I can right now still enjoy this and have a little fun with it and give me some extra days to enjoy the moment that has cost me so much, this is special.”

Logano, ranked fifth in the Cup standings, 30 points behind leader Chase Elliott, says he didn’t know what to expect on the concrete surface where he raced more than a decade ago in the Xfinity Series races.

“I thought the track did a tremendous job last year,” he says. “I was pretty nervous about it because, honestly, before, when we went there with the Xfinity cars and trucks and the racing wasn’t that good.

“But we went there last year and they put the resin down and it was fantastic,” Logano says. “I was like, ‘What track are we at? This is not what I was expecting at all.’ (The track) put on a great race all the way through. The track was wide, lot of good racing, moving around. And I thought, ‘Well, this is pretty cool. This is like a whole new place.’”

Moses calls last year’s racing “really good” despite concerns “that the racing might not be as competitive. There might not be a lot of passing. There might not be multiple grooves for the drivers to find and be able to compete.

“But we got four-wide throughout the weekend and even on Sunday. And so, I think there were multiple grooves at the front that the drivers found.”

More parking spaces added

The parking issue, along with access to the track, was one of the first tackled by Moses and his staff.

“The big thing that we did and the big investment we made was we cleared 20-plus acres across the street from the superspeedway on land that we own across McCrary Road to add nearly 3,000 additional parking spots,” Moses points out. “So that will allow us to load cars on both sides of McCrary, the main artery, into the track at the same time.”

He adds 2,600 parking spaces are less than 50 yards from the track, so there is no shuttle system but safety officers “will ensure pedestrians can safely cross McCrary Road onto Victory Lane Drive.”

The other key point is that parking fees collected at the gate last year have been rolled into ticket costs.

“We think that with the combination of not stopping motorists to pay will get them into a parking lot and into parking spaces faster and therefore into the venue faster. So that’s one of the big things that will greatly improve the parking situation,” Moses explains.

“Last year we charged for parking, so when fans showed up, they paid for parking and then were directed by an attendant to a parking space. This year, we are not charging on-site for parking, so you’ll just roll in.”

Beating the heat

With temperatures expected to reach nearly 100 degrees, race fans are encouraged to check the track’s website for the enhanced policy changes designed to keep fans safe and comfortable.

Notably, where fans were limited to just one water bottle, the new policy states they can bring “unlimited numbers of sealed bottles of water with them into the grandstands, with no size limitation. Fans are encouraged to freeze the water bottles to help them stay cold longer and help keep food cold in bags,” the policy states.

“We are allowing knapsack-type bags to come in – which is on our policy page on our website – and fans are certainly allowed to bring in frozen bottled water and food and nonalcoholic drinks if they’d like to in those bags,” Moses says. “But coolers are one thing that we decided that we’re not going to accept.”

The other key factor that Moses points out is that the NBC-televised race has been pushed back two hours to a 4 p.m. start.

“I know for a fact, from having been out on the track many times, that by 5 o’clock – and maybe even earlier but certainly by 5 – the sun is behind the grandstands,” Moses says.

“So, our fans will not be sitting in direct sunlight for the Cup race on Sunday. The sun will be setting. The air will be warm because that’s Middle Tennessee in the summertime. But they won’t be sitting in direct sunlight, as was probably the case last year with the 2 o’clock start.”

Moses says he could see the Ally 400 as a night race, considering the heat factor, but that he sees potential problems there, too.

“I think it would be great if we’re gonna be at this time of year, you know, certainly as a nod to our fans and everyone involved in putting on the event,” Moses says. “That would give us a better chance to avoid the high temperatures.

“But yeah, I’d love to see a night race. I love the fact that our truck race is on Friday night. I think there’s something special about night racing. We obviously have the lights. I think it could be fantastic to have a Sunday night race.

“The thing I worry about, to be honest, is (how) that affects people in terms of starting a race at night and it’s a workday on Monday. How would that affect the crowd and our fans’ willingness to come out on a Sunday evening?” he points out.

“But if we had a 5 or 6 o’clock start, I certainly would be in favor or something like that.”

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter & RSS:
TNLedger.com Nashville Editon
RECORD TOTALS DAY WEEK YEAR
PROPERTY SALES 0 0 0
MORTGAGES 0 0 0
FORECLOSURE NOTICES 0 0 0
BUILDING PERMITS 0 0 0
BANKRUPTCIES 0 0 0
BUSINESS LICENSES 0 0 0
UTILITY CONNECTIONS 0 0 0
MARRIAGE LICENSES 0 0 0