The Nationwide and Cup tours roll into Chicago this weekend. The Windy City has held the traditional post-Independence Day date since the speedway began hosting major league NASCAR races in 2001. But it wasn’t always that way.
A little weekly short track accompanied with an old-fashioned fairground used to hold the very same date. Nashville, Tenn., formerly hosted the then Grand National Series in its second of two annual 420-lap races.
The setting is a grassroots level racetrack that stages stock car racing every Saturday night whose surface measures just under five-eighths of a mile in length. It is a NASCAR Weekly Racing Series sanctioned speedway with a featured late model division.
Twice a season the local race program was pushed to Friday evening to make room for the NASCAR Winston Cup Grand National Series on Saturday night. The area racers were not left off the program. Their regular schedule accompanied Friday’s pole qualifying. These were down home southern weekends.
The 420-lap distance comes from an old rule of having the Grand National series compete in races with a minimum 250-mile duration.
July 14, 1984 wound up being the final Grand National race contested at the Fairgrounds. But on this night no one knew the series would not return to the historic NASCAR oval.
Ricky Rudd led the 30-car field to the green flag as there was some extra attention paid to this race. It was the next event following Richard Petty’s 200th career win just 10 days prior in the Firecracker 400. President Reagan was on hand at Daytona and some media attention had spilled over to follow the Nashville happenings.
Petty showed up strong and time trialed in the third position. But as racing’s fickle fate would have it, the orange and blue machine was retired with an engine failure just past halfway.
Geoff Bodine won his second career Grand National race for car owner Rick Hendrick. It was also Hendrick’s second career win as their first together came earlier that same year in April at Martinsville. Bodine steered car number five, the team Mark Martin currently drives for.
Darrell Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt, Ron Bouchard, and Bobby Allison rounded out the top five. And a young USAC open wheel star from the Midwest made his big league NASCAR stock car debut. Ken Schrader driving for Tommy Gale finished 19th after qualifying 27th. He followed that up with the 1985 Series Rookie of the Year award in Junie Donleavy’s team.
The Nashville Fairgrounds was left off the 1985 Winston Cup schedule, reducing the season from 30 events to 28. The facility held a maximum of only 20,000 spectators and a local racetrack was the opposite direction NASCAR wanted to take the tour. Looking more towards new market areas and bigger venues.
The ownership was reported to have financial difficulties and there was an unanswered question as to who would be operating and managing the speedway beyond 1984. Thus surprisingly leaving Bodine as the final Winston Cup race winner.
The track operated well into the future holding grassroots races, NASCAR’s Busch and Truck Series, and touring late model divisions. Today the Fairgrounds oval is up against politics and financial issues to survive yet continues to operate on a limited stock car racing schedule.
NASCAR’s highest series never did get to say goodbye or close out its run with an officially announced final Nashville Fairgrounds race. The old 420 lap events attracted the traveling fan and the die-hard weekly Saturday night ticket buyer. The very same crowd that NASCAR is trying to regain this very day.
(Patrick Reynolds is a former NASCAR mechanic who hosts "Motorweek Live" Thursdays at 9pm ET. Listen at www.racersreunionradio.com)
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