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VOL. 46 | NO. 31 | Friday, August 5, 2022

Grand Prix back to further supercharge local economy

By Tom Wood

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The Korean War Veterans Memorial Bridge over the Cumberland River will once again provide made-for-TV visuals during the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix.

-- Photos By Lat

Bigger and better. Those are the expectations for Sunday’s second running of the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix, the featured event being an 80-lap IndyCar street race on a downtown course that crosses the Cumberland River.

The three-day festival could draw some 100,000 fans to the mammoth experience, which features nightly concerts and entertainment across the campus, food events and family-oriented activities, as well as the five on-track races.

Besides the featured NTT IndyCar Series race, 2022 returnees include GT America and Trans Am Series races as well as a Stadium Super Trucks event. Making its Nashville debut this year is an Indy Lights race, a developmental circuit.

“Lots of new additions and changes for 2022 … plus a lot of the stuff that folks came to enjoy last year,” says Christian Parker, the Music City Grand Prix president.

“We have added some activities on the waterfront with the Pro Watercross, which will be happening on Friday and Saturday of this year’s event, so that’s exciting – bringing the waterfront and the Cumberland River into play.”

One of the larger attractions for this year’s FanZone area is a Ferris wheel ride. But nothing – save Sunday’s showcase race – is a bigger draw than the Saturday night concert at Nissan Stadium by Tim McGraw.

“We’ve got a Friday show and a Sunday show as well, with the Saturday evening show headliner being music icon Tim McGraw,” Parker says. “Some amazing stuff that we’ve got going on for this year’s event. Hopefully, plenty of things for everyone.”

Economic boost

Last year’s inaugural event generated some $24 million in total economic impact for Nashville, Parker says.

2021 Big Machine Music City Grand Prix champion Marcus Ericsson celebrates with teammate and second-place finisher Scott Dixon, right, and third-place finisher James Hinchcliffe.

“We always said that our projections were $20-plus million in the first year, based on some of the examples that we had looked at that had been provided to us by similar-sized, similar-attended events in Nashville. And that held true,” he adds.

“I believe that when it was all said and done, we were close to $24 million in total economic impact. That really hit those marks in year one, and that’s great because it’s true direct economic impact.”

Parker goes on to explain the difference between “direct” and “residual” economic impact – which could boost the overall impact of the weekend by several million more.

“(Direct) is people buying tickets, people staying in hotels, people renting cars, people buying plane tickets,” he says. “It’s not the residual spending that occurs from people eating out and so on and so forth. So we’re very pleased with the achievement in year one.

“I think it’s great for Nashville. I think it meant a significant boom for Nashville at a period last year during the early end of COVID protocols that was very well needed.”

As Nashville returns to “normal,” Parker says he expects bigger crowds in the future.

“We always want more attendance,” he says. “That’s always the goal. I think that everything is back to normal in Nashville. There is just a surge of activities and events and opportunities in Nashville.

“And those are big and small, whether there are other sporting events, whether there are other concerts, whether there are other music festivals.”

‘Hallmark moment’

IndyCar racing is popular overseas, and the race will be seen in more than 150 countries. Nashville is a destination city for international tourists, which Parker calls a win/win for the city and the event.

The 2.17-mile course begins at Nissan Stadium and zips across a 553-yard span of the Korean War Veterans Memorial Bridge over the Cumberland River.

The finish line at Nissan Stadium.

“I think it made for kind of a Hallmark moment, a postcard moment. We had beautiful weather, the city skyline in the background…it just made for a very picturesque postcard on Nashville,” Parker says. “Everybody was really pleased and thrilled with the imagery and the overall perception that was established by racing over the water.

“From the drivers’ perspective, most of them just indicated that it was part of the track. And I think they were also pretty amazed at just the crown on that bridge as you actually drive over it and kind of how much arch it had.

“It doesn’t look like that necessarily when you’re just sitting there staring at it. But when you were driving over it, it had a pretty significant arch. But I think they thought it made for a tremendous course and a tremendous experience.”

This year’s race – which gets underway at 2:30 p.m. on NBC (WSMV-4 in Nashville) – is the second year of the three-year contract that includes renewal options.

Parker says a few course adjustments have been made, like smoothing out the pavement the transition off the bridge so there are fewer bounces.

“We’ve also widened a couple of the turns, at Turn 10 and Turn 11, in particular. And then, we’re making a slight change at the marquee Turn 9 by sort of bringing the track out as opposed to following the curve at that intersection,” he notes.

“But to the average fan, the track is going to look and feel and run the same. The difference is just going to be those minor adjustments which the drivers will appreciate (and) will make for better racing.”

Newgarden’s status questionable

Marcus Ericcson won the inaugural Music City Grand Prix, with Scott Dixon and James Hinchcliffe joining him on the podium.

Local favorite and resident Josef Newgarden, 31, finished 10th a year ago and is expected to be among the favorites — assuming he’s healthy. Newgarden, who had already won four races this season before last weekend’s Gallagher Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, has had a rough month.

He suffered a hard crash in his SRX debut at historic Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway July 9, then had to be hospitalized two weeks ago after an even harder crash at Iowa Speedway.

After winning the first race of the doubleheader, he was leading the second race when what is described as a “damper failure” in the right rear sent the car flying into the wall.

Newgarden got out of the Team Penske car under his own power, was checked out at the care center and even did a series of interviews. Soon after, he fainted and his head smacked the pavement. He spent the night in a Des Moines hospital before returning to Nashville.

Newgarden passed a physical exam July 28 and was provisionally reinstated to practice the following day. He was re-evaluated again before being allowed to drive in Saturday’s race, where he finished fifth.

After being cleared to practice, Newgarden tweeted how much he looked forward to being in the cockpit for last Saturday’s Indy road course race, thanking both medical personnel and his team “for unwavering support as always. It would take a small army to keep me down, and I’ve got an even bigger army behind me helping me go forward.”

Other top contenders in Nashville are Pato O’Ward, one of the hottest drivers on the circuit, and Alex Palou.

Parker says only single-day tickets remain for what he anticipates to be a bigger and better event.

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