Long-time racer Ronnie Campbell takes his car for a drive on the Fairgrounds Speedway. Photo: John Partipilo)
A community engagement group figured people living near the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway had something to say about NASCAR racing returning to the track, and they were correct.
On Tuesday, Stand Up Nashville (SUN) representatives presented results from a recent survey to the Board of Fair Commissioners meeting, detailing local resident’s concerns.
In March, Metro Nashville and Bristol Motor Speedway announced that NASCAR would be returning to the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway for the first time since 1984.
The fairgrounds speedway has been a part of Nashville’s culture for more than 100 years and hosted a variety of competitive racing events through much of the 20th century. But a lot has changed since 1984, as has the residential area. Behind the fairgrounds, “tall and skinny” housing is under development, and no barriers currently exist between the neighborhoods and the speedway.
Concerned about the lack of public input, SUN advocates surveyed more than 500 residents living nearby through in-person canvassing and found that a majority of residents do not support the plan as it is currently proposed. Concerns included noise and traffic, with some complaining that they’re already experiencing loud noises reaching their homes.
“It was concerning that the people in charge of erecting the walls to help absorb the noise didn’t seem to have a fully formed plan,” said one surveyor.
“It’s going to move a lot of people out of the neighborhood,” said another.
At Tuesday’s meeting, SUN presenter Candace LaFayette found that a majority of residents felt that there was nothing they could do and “were just accepting their fate.”
“Among the residents we surveyed, not all of them were opposed to the plan. Some could find themselves being in support of it if community feedback was taken into account,” said LaFayette. “But a large majority believe it’ll lead to a reduced quality of life.”
In an effort to address resident concerns, Bristol representatives hired an audiologist to measure how sound permeated the surrounding area.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, people exposed for prolonged periods of time to noises above 70 decibels can develop hearing damage.
Data collected from the Big Machine Vodka Pro Late Models race held on the speedway in 2019 showed that some residents were being exposed to racetrack sounds as loud as 90 decibels. Despite plans to erect sound barriers, Bristol officials are still expecting nearby residents to be exposed to a maximum of 95 decibels during the NASCAR races, with the average being 85 decibels.
Bristol officials have proposed noise mitigation measures, such as limiting the number of races on weekends to 10 a year, curfews for racetrack workers, adding additional sound absorbing walls and mandating muffler use for all non-NASCAR racing. With these measures, officials are expecting a 50% reduction in perceived loudness.
Negotiations are still underway between the board and Metropolitan Council with Bristol over a possible long-term contract to lease, manage and operate the speedway. Although Bristol officials said they had conducted community outreach efforts, Jason Bergeron, fair board vice chairman, still expects them to cooperate with SUN, which has led community efforts in response to developments throughout Nashville.
“Another concern I have recently, something you and I have talked about in the past, is astroturfing,” said Bergeron, commenting that he’s received complaints about recent activities.
“I think we can get to a really good deal if we have honest conversations and if Bristol listens to the community,” he added.
Bristol representatives are expecting a September opening.
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