Study: Bristol Motorsports plan would reduce racing noise at Fairgrounds Nashville

Long-time racer Ronnie Campbell takes his car for a drive on the Fairgrounds Speedway. Photo: John Partipilo)
Long-time racer Ronnie Campbell takes his car for a drive on the Fairgrounds Speedway. Photo: John Partipilo)

Between using the racetrack less frequently and implementing several noise-mitigation strategies, Bristol Motor Speedway would vastly reduce the noise impact on the neighborhoods surrounding the fairgrounds, according to a consultant’s report made public on Tuesday.

Jackson Wrightson with the Texas-based firm WJHW presented the study results to the Metro Nashville Board of Fair Commissioners on Tuesday, then discussed the report with the Tennessee Lookout.

Along with traffic and parking, noise is the biggest concern for neighbors, who have been engaged with a decade-plus battle with racetrack operators about reducing the impact of racing.

Bristol Motor Speedway is seeking to take over the racetrack and renovate the facility. State legislation allowed for much of the renovation to be funded with fees on tickets to events at the racetrack, but the full financing plan has not been revealed.

Bristol Motor Speedway executive vice president Jerry Caldwell said the plan is to hold fewer races and rent the track out for fewer practice runs, which have historically led to noise complaints from neighbors.

The WJHW report concluded that the addition of a 20-foot sound absorbing wall, as well as the expanded grandstands and the construction of other buildings on the fairgrounds property, especially the new soccer stadium, would reduce noise impact by 50 percent. Bristol Motor Speedway plans to require mufflers at all but one of its races, would also contribute to the reduction in noise impact, Wrightson told the Lookout.

Noise from races has long been a bone of contention in the Wedgewood-Houston neighborhood near Fairgrounds Nashville, but the new operations team says the requirement of mufflers on most cars and a sound absorbing wall will ease the problem.

The one race where there would be an exception is the anticipated NASCAR race, which would not require the mufflers, but would still only have an impact equal to the most popular current race at the fairgrounds, the annual All American 400.

“There’s two things that are big contributors to that, one is the additional construction which creates additional barriers, be it sound walls or the new buildings all around the track,” Wrightson said. “So we’re blocking sound. We’re not eliminating sound, but we’re blocking sound. The second thing is rigorous enforcement (of the muffler requirement).” 

WJHW was hired by Bristol Motor Speedway to begin studying the issue in 2019, when it took sound measurements of races at the track.

“Between the barriers and enforcing the racing sanctioning body’s own regulations (on mufflers), you get significant reductions,” Wrightson said. “For the NASCAR event we have louder cars, because as of now they’re unmuffled – who knows what will happen in the future. They’re louder cars. The barrier is doing enough good that we’re no worse than we were in 2019.”

Nashville Mayor John Cooper has a tentative agreement with Bristol Motor Speedway for a $50 million track renovation, pending the financing details. The 117-year-old track has been an unlikely centerpiece of Nashville political controversy, highlighted by the 2011 voter referendum that determined racing and other events historically held at the property must continue to take place there, unless a super-majority vote by the Metro Council decides otherwise.