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Will concerns cause roadblock for NASCAR return to Nashville?

Fairgrounds Speedway

Plans to bring NASCAR racing back to Nashville’s Fairgrounds Speedway may have hit a speed bump.

According to The Tennessean, financing to upgrade the .596-mile racing facility, as well as potential encroachment of part of a new $275 million Major League Soccer stadium complex, have led to a number of unanswered questions on the viability of bringing NASCAR back to Music City.

Nashville Mayor David Briley’s administration has expressed concern over how Speedway Motorsports Inc. and current Fairgrounds race operator Tony Formosa will fund plans for upgrades and improvements to the track facility, the newspaper reported.

“To date, (SMI) has not presented an option that was either practical considering the planned MLS stadium or financially feasible considering the mayor’s insistence on private investment in any proposal,” Briley spokesperson Thomas Mulgrew told The Tennessean.

The newspaper said the latest financing proposal includes possible legislation that would allow state and city tax revenue generated from NASCAR events at the racetrack to go toward paying for facility improvements and upgrades.

But a potentially larger sticking point in bringing NASCAR’s national series back to the Fairgrounds is construction of the adjacent soccer stadium. The footprint of a mixed-use apartment building and parking garage that would be part of the stadium project would come as close as 20 feet to the front entrance of the racetrack.

Formosa expressed concern to The Tennessean that such a close encroachment may prevent the ability to hold races on the track if stadium plans are not adjusted, particularly for safety reasons, as well as limiting ability for future track expansion or further improvements.

“You have to have that open for emergency vehicles, and for people to enter,” Formosa told The Tennessean. “That’s the main gate.”

Officials of SMI, which owns eight NASCAR tracks, including Bristol Motor Speedway, site of this weekend’s Xfinity and Cup races, are hopeful both the financing and stadium encroachment issues can be resolved.

“Locating one of the mixed-use structures next to the race track entrance will pose an obvious challenge to staging major events of any kind, both operationally and from a public safety standpoint,” BMS general manager Jerry Caldwell told The Tennessean.

A return to Nashville isn’t just important to SMI, it’s equally as important to NASCAR. The sanctioning body will hold its Cup awards banquet Dec. 5 in Music City, moving it from Las Vegas.

“There is a great amount of interest from the motorsports industry to bring NASCAR back to the Nashville fairgrounds,” Caldwell told The Tennessean. “The drivers and fans love the idea of returning to one of racing’s most historic and important tracks and cities.

“We frequently hear from drivers, race teams and fans inquiring about when Nashville will be on the NASCAR schedule. ... Major racing in Nashville is one of the hottest interests among drivers and racing fans.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski