1972 Nashville 420 - Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway - August 26, 1972

During the late sixties, there was perhaps no other driver who epitomized the hard charging character of NASCAR more than Lonnie "LeeRoy" Yarbrough.  The Jacksonville, Florida native’s name became synonymous with winning as he reigned dominate in the white Junior Johnson-prepared Ford’s and Mercury’s.  In 1969, Yarbrough captured an impressive 7 victories and 21 top-tens in 30 races.  He would win 14 races in total during his all-to-short career. Junior Johnson would describe Yarbrough as “The best driver I ever had.”  

Yarbrough tried his hand at Indy Car racing and led the inaugural California 500 at Ontario in 1970.  Unfortunately, in April 1970, he suffered a hard crash at a test session at Texas World Speedway (lost). This crash caused Yarbrough to have significant mental issues accompanied by memory loss. 

Factory pull-outs and other issues caused Yarbrough to drop down to a second-tier team for the 1972 NASCAR Winston Cup season.  He would drive the 45 car for journeyman driver Bill Siefert.  The team would put together an incredible run with Yarbrough placing in the Top-Five 5 times and the Top-Ten 9 times. 

When I saw Yarbrough at Nashville in August 1972, he looked a bit different than he did a few years before.  His hair was long and he looked rough.  Yarbrough qualified 13th in the Siefert Mercury and I looked for him to have a good race. However, as the field headed to the flag stand to complete the first lap, the 45 car pulled into the pits.  Yarbrough climbed out of his powder blue Mercury and stated “I quit.”  He would run two more races during the 1972 season, crashing out of each race early.  His career had come to an end.

In February 1980, Yarbrough would attempt to kill his 65 year-old mother. For that action, he would be committed to a Florida State Mental Facility.  Yarbrough had suffered brain trauma from his crashes and he had also contracted Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. He would die of a seizure on December 7, 1984. 

Perhaps fellow driver James Hylton summed it up best by stating “that doggone tick. The Rocky Mountain spotted fever—if it goes untreated, it’s a mental thing, and it’ll drive you insane. They gave Lee Roy so much medication when they finally did treat it that it eventually caused his death. He just deteriorated to the point where he was unmanageable. The man did not deserve that. Lee Roy was one of the good ones.”

Rest in Peace LeeRoy.

Chase Elliot held off both his father and Tony Stewart to win the SRX Feature at Nashville before one of the largest crowds at the speedway since the departure of the NASCAR CUP Series in 1984.  The Elliott’s dominated most of the race, with Bill Elliott leading giving up the lead on a late race restart, allowing his son to take a lead he would never relinquish.  Bill Elliott was the only driver competing that had experience at Fairgrounds Speedway during the Winston Cup years of 1958 - 84.

"I had a ball. I got to race against one of my heroes; I got to race against Dad there throughout the race. And those are moments I'll cherish forever," stated winner Chase Elliott in Victory Lane. "… I don't know what lit a fire under (Bill) tonight, but he was as aggressive as I've seen him in years. It was amazing and a lot of fun. "I thought it was gonna be between he and I, and I think he just got a little high into (turn) one and missed that restart. But other than that, it was so much fun."

Stewart, who clinched the Camping World SRX Series championship before the second heat race ended, drove from fifth in the 12-driver field to begin engaging the Elliott’s just past the midpoint of the race. Stewart passed Bill for second on lap 61 and promptly set his sights on Chase. While Stewart got close, Chase held onto the lead and held off Stewart.

“The ghost of Marty Robbins is here somewhere,” said Ray Evernham, co-founder of the Camping World SRX Series and the man who restored the racecar used by Robbins’ at the Fairgrounds during the sixties. “His number was 777, so we picked 77 laps for the race distance, and then that caution flag with seven laps left, that was for Marty. People ask what all the cautions are for, and I say it’s to close the field up. And they ask when are you going to throw them, and I say whenever I feel like it.”

Finish Driver Start Laps Led Status
1 Chase Elliot 4 77 24 Running
2 Tony Stewart 5 77 0 Running
3 Bill Elliot 1 77 53 Running
4 Bobby Labonte 2 77 0 Running
5 Paul Tracy 7 77 0 Running
6 Ernie Franics, Jr 3 77 0 Running
7 Michael Waltrip 10 77 0 Running
8 Tony Kaanan 8 77 0 Running
9 Helio Castroneves 6 77 0 Running
10 Hailie Deegan 11 77 0 Running
11 Marco Andretti 9 77 0 Running
12 Willy T. Ribbs 12 56 0 Wreck


Mayor Cooper strikes deal to bring NASCAR back to Fairgrounds

Deal moves NASCAR races at Fairgrounds Speedway closer - NBC SportsMayor John Cooper and Bristol Motor Speedway have struck an initial deal that could bring NASCAR back to Nashville's Fairgrounds Speedway. The city has signed a letter of intent with Bristol to renovate the city's historic short track into a "significant money-making operation" that will shift financial responsibility of renovations and upkeep to the company.  In a news release Friday, the administration said the city will issue no more than $50 million in bonds for racetrack renovations.

Under the deal, debt and project costs will be covered by revenues generated from racing and other events held at the revamped venue, including lease payments and taxes and fees collected from visitors.  State legislation is still needed in order for a portion to ticket sales to be rerouted to fund improvements. Sponsors are state Sen. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, and state Rep. Ryan Williams, R-Cookeville. 




Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway Track History

File:1911 nashville fairgrounds.jpgThe historic Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway is the second oldest operating motor speedway in the United States.  The only speedway with a longer history of operations is the Milwaukee Mile, which held its first race in 1903.  The Fairgrounds Speedway's opening predates that of the  Indianapolis Motor Speedway by four years.  The first automobile race held at Nashville's  Fairgrounds speedway took place at the dawn of the automotive age on June 11, 1904.  At that time, the track was configured into a one and an eight-mile dirt oval.  Soon automobile races became an annual tradition and events would occur in conjunction with the Tennessee State Fair until the 1940's.   Pictured at right is the start of a race at Fairgrounds Speedway from 1911. 


1958 ConstructionIn 1958, promoters Benny Goodman, Bill Donoho and Mark Parrish reconfigured the track into a half-mile paved oval (1958 construction photo at left).  On July 19, 1958, Charlie Griffin of Chattanooga won the first race held on the new track.  Weekly races featuring both local and national drivers became a fixture of the track along with the annual (later bi-annual) appearances of the NASCAR Grand National / Winston Cup series.  In 1969, the present 5/8-mile configuration was established with 35 degree banked turns.  The first Grand National race on the new banking was televised live on ABC's Wide World of Sports in 1970.  The tracks high banks generated a great deal of speed as evidenced by the qualifying laps of the time period.  The record for the 35 degree configuration is held by NASCAR star Bobby Allison.   The Hueytown, Alabama based Allison qualified his Chevrolet Monte Carlo at a blistering 116.932 mph for the 1972 Nashville 420.  However, the 35 degree banking proved to be too treacherous for the local sportsman racers and were modified after the 1972 season to the current day 18 degree banking.


During the seventies many of Winston Cup's biggest stars visited the Nashville track with sell-out crowds in the grandstands (including the 1972 Nashville 420 pictured at left).  Unfortunately, time and economics eventually lead Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway to be stricken from the ranks of NASCAR's Winston Cup Division in 1984.  At the time Fairgrounds Speedway was owned by California businessman Warner Hodgdon and his bankruptcy filing caused NASCAR to pull its premier series from the track.  The track continued to host weekly NASCAR series racing as well as the NASCAR Busch Series and Craftsman Truck Series until the year 2000.  Those races would move to the new Nashville Superspeedway in 2001.


During 2020, the City of Nashville entered into discussions with Bristol Motor Speedway / Speedway Motorsports, LLC, to explore the possibility of bringing the track up to current NASCAR CUP Series standards. These upgrades would include improvements to the grandstands as well as adding garages and space for team hauler parking. The track would be managed by Bristol Motor Sports and could possibly bring NASCAR racing back to the track by the 2022 season.  An artist’s interpretation on the improved Fairgrounds Speedway can be seen at left. “Bristol Motor Speedway and Speedway Motorsports are thrilled to take this step forward with Mayor Cooper, the Fair Board, Metro Council and the neighborhood stakeholders,” said Marcus Smith, president and chief executive officer of Speedway Motorsports and Bristol Motor Speedway. “We can work together to transform Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway into an amazing multipurpose entertainment destination. We’re ready to roll up our sleeves and go to work to fully restore the speedway, recruit national events and breathe new life into a venue that has a legendary status in auto racing history.”


Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway Track Memorabilia

Late Sixties/Early Seventies track logo Winston Nashville 420 Banner Seventies Seating Chart

Photo Notes

I began attending Grand National races in Nashville during 1972.  The collection of pictures contained on the website were obtained from driver postcards obtained at the track, postcard from the internet and photographs taken at the race track.  The track pictures taken from 1972 to 1980 were made with a Kodak instamatic 126 and an Anseco Pioneer 616; 1982 through 1983 with a Pentax 35mm and 1984 with a  Nikon FG.  All track photos are indicated with applicable race on individual car webpage.

I would also like to acknowledge  Russ Thompson, Tommy Marchman, Fred Marchman, Evelyn Hylton, Ray Lamm,  Ray Pentecost , Benny Quinn, Mike Alexander, Tony Roberts Ray Binkley Jr., David Mudd along with the photo achieves of The Tennessean for the contributions that they have made to this project.  The overall quality and thoroughness of the site would have been impossible to achieve without their photographic efforts.



This website is dedicated to the drivers, teams, track officials and fans that have made Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway one of the south's great sporting attractions.

 This site is also dedicated to my parents for enduring many pre and post races hours while I took photos, helped independent drivers in the pits and collected postcards.


Nashville 420.com publisher Jeff Droke in August 1973, in Nashville with Walter Ballard Racing's Mercury and back at the Nashville track in April 2015, with NASCAR legend James Hylton.  Droke was a member of the Hylton Motorsports team for a number of years.


Special thanks to The Drake Motel for the hospitality offered to my family when we came to Nashville for the races


Website is property of Jeff Droke

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