The Big Machine Music City Grand Prix brought about 110,000 fans to downtown Nashville the weekend of Aug. 6 through 8, with a sellout crowd of 60,000 fans attending the actual event on Sunday. After attempts in 2010 and 2015 to bring an IndyCar race to Nashville failed, and after many discussions between Nashville sports and tourism officials and IndyCar executives, 2021 saw it all come together.
Music City Grand Prix founder and CEO Matt Crews, a former football great and record-breaking kicker for MTSU, kept at it until the race became a reality. One of the deciding factors in landing the event was how well Nashville did hosting 2019’s NFL Draft, according to Penske Entertainment president and CEO Mark Miles. Penske Entertainment owns the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the NTT IndyCar Series and IMS Productions.
Apparently, excitement was so high for the Music City race that Miles claimed, “Nashville is going to join Monaco at the absolute top tier of street racing in motorsport across the globe.” His Twitter blew up when he said it, but it turned out he was on target. I can understand the skepticism — the Cumberland River is hardly the French Riviera, and pontoon boats don’t have the high-class air of super yachts. But Nashville is a centrally located city in the nation, and that allows almost anyone to get here easily and affordably.
Miles added that he meant no disrespect to Monaco but that he thought the setup here in Nashville would propel the street race to the top tier. If Miles is a betting man, I hope he laid money on that, because according to a release from NBC Sports, not only was the race a huge success for our city, it also averaged a total audience delivery of 1.212 million viewers, “making it the most-watched NTT INDYCAR SERIES race on cable in NBC Sports history (since 2009). It’s also believed to be the most-watched INDYCAR cable race in 23 years (2.218 million; ESPN; 1998).” Wow!
Economically, Nashville has also gotten out ahead of the curve (pun intended). Despite the challenges created by the pandemic, according to a recent report published by real estate investment company Stessa, Nashville has had the most economic growth in the U.S. With events like the IndyCar race and the Fourth of July celebration that attracted some 350,000 people to our city, economic activity has really picked up. More people visiting or attending events generally means more people renting hotel rooms, eating in restaurants and visiting entertainment venues. In other words, it’s helping our bottom line.
Success, they say, has many authors. Mayor John Cooper rallied and unified the necessary folks, and Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp president and CEO Butch Spyridon convinced Penske that Nashville was the right place for the race. The police department notified the public, keeping the traffic flowing and providing safety.
As if the success of the Music City Grand Prix was not enough to have tourists and locals alike making plans for next year, there is a great chance that NASCAR will be returning to the Fairgrounds Nashville by 2023 — if all continues to go as planned. What’s more, NASCAR Champion’s Week will return this year, bringing an influx of drivers, celebrities and tourists to crown the winner of the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series — our own Music City Center will host. We had the same honor in 2019, but of course COVID forced the celebration to go virtual in 2020.
And let’s not forget the Nashville Superspeedway, which had a successful reopening this year with full stands and Kyle Larson taking home the Cup. The track played host to the triple-header weekend after it had been inactive since 2011. The latest multimillion-dollar transformation finally has the track back up to speed (sorry, another pun), and fans are equally as ready to return for future races already on the schedule.
Though the inaugural Big Machine Music City Grand Prix was a success, according to NBC, “Podium finishers Scott Dixon and James Hinchcliffe both said some modifications to driver etiquette would improve the racing.” Likely, those modifications will be put in place prior to next year’s race. Yes, the grand prix will return next year, as the city has a three-year contract in place.
The city learned a lot too. As racer Hinchcliffe said: “It wasn’t just we got dumb lucky putting ourselves in a highly populous city. There’s an appetite for racing here!”
Bill Freeman is the owner of FW Publishing, the publishing company that produces the Nashville Scene, Nfocus, the Nashville Post and Home Page Media Group in Williamson County.