The history of racing at the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway

Charlie Griffith | Photo provided by Russ Thompson

Picture this: You’ve arrived at the fairgrounds to enjoy a thrilling race at the speedway, and when the announcer says, “Start your engines”… horseless carriages take off on a dirt path. The year is 1904, and you just witnessed Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway’s inaugural race. 🏎️

Opening in 1904, the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway became one of the oldest continually operating racetracks in the country. Its first race was held on June 11 of that year, and by 1915 the track was hosting annual races that coincided with the Tennessee State Fair.

In 1957, the track was converted to a half-mile paved oval, and began hosting the NASCAR Cup Series until 1984. In 1995, NASCAR returned with its Busch Series + Craftsman Truck Series, but was moved to the Nashville Superspeedway in 2001 where its series events are currently held.  

Since then, the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway has hosted several new division series + just held its 64th season opener on Apr. 17

Recently, Mayor Cooper + Bristol Motor Speedway produced a letter of intent to renovate the track, bringing 30,000 seats, improved noise control and safety features + more. Additionally, the terms could bring NASCAR back to the speedway by 2022

While the deal awaits approval from city officials, we’re taking you on a blast from the past to celebrate some of Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway’s many “firsts.” 

Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway’s first race

Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway horseless carriage | Photo provided by the Tennessee State Library and Archives

The first race meeting held at the Nashville Fairgrounds was on June 11, 1904, which featured horseless carriages + motorcycles.

First nighttime airplane flight

First nighttime airplane flight | Photo provided by the Tennessee State Library and Archives

At the Tennessee State Fair on June 22, 1910, attendees witnessed the first nighttime airplane flight, which was equipped with automobile headlights.

First asphalt race winner

Charlie Griffith | Photo provided by Russ Thompson

On July 19, 1958, Chattanooga native Charlie Griffith was the first asphalt race winner at the fairgrounds. 

First asphalt champion

Bob Reuther | Photo provided by Russ Thompson

Nashville native Bob Reuther became the first asphalt champion at Nashville fairgrounds in 1958.

First NASCAR Cup Series

First NASCAR Cup event in 1958 | Photo provided by Russ Thompson

On Aug. 10, 1958, Joe Weatherly won the first NASCAR event held for the Cup cars at the Nashville Fairgrounds.

First national televised sporting event from Nashville


On July 25, 1970, the Nashville 420 NASCAR Cup Serieswon by Bobby Isaac — became the first sporting event in Nashville to be nationally televised.

First All American 400

First All American 400 | Photo provided by Russ Thompson

Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway’s first All American 400 race was held on Nov. 1, 1981 + was won by Greenville, SC native, Butch Lindley

First inductees into the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway Hall of Fame

The first inductees to Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway Hall of Fame | Photo provided by Russ Thompson

First promoter Bill Donoho, first champion Bob Reuther + 4-time champion Coo Marlin became the first inductees into the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway Hall of Fame in 1987.

The first female inductee of the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway Hall of Fame

Lillie Buford’s induction into the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway Hall of Fame in 2020 | Photo provided by Russ Thompson

In 2020, Lillie Buford was the first female inducted into the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway Hall of Fame. Lillie was the wife of 2-time premier division champion Flookie Buford + mother of 4-time division champion Joe Buford.