A rendering of proposed renovations to the Fairgrounds Speedway. Credit: Perkins-Eastman

The message to Jim Gingrich was clear: Pull your ads or your mayoral campaign will get whacked.

A prominent supporter of Bristol Motor Speedway bringing NASCAR events to the Fairgrounds  Speedway told Gingrich that if he didn’t remove his campaign ads criticizing the racetrack deal “there would be people that would come after me.” 

A Gingrich staffer who attended the meeting confirmed the details of a meeting between Gingrich, racing supporter Norm Partin and racetrack director Gary Neal.

“I think the city should be able to have a dialogue about the merits of a deal,” Gingrich said. “The fact that you have a billionaire that controls [Speedway Motorsports], which in turn controls BMS, this is another situation of us as a city bending over backward to somebody who is extremely rich. And that’s been the politics as usual. I’m surprised that they would resort to a threat that if we do not change our point of view, they are going to come after us.”

Partin confirmed to the Banner the meeting and the outlines of what was said.

“I was very firm with him,” Partin said. “And I said, ‘your ads are at minimum incorrect and maximum false information.’ And I went in, explained everything to him that there’s no [general fund] taxpayer money.”

Partin said while he was not party to any plan to attack Gingrich, others in the coalition who support the deal were angered over his ads and would retaliate.  

In his ad titled “Dad,” Gingrich employs his father to help make “the case against spending more than $100 million on a NASCAR racetrack.” The spot, which has been running for almost two weeks, has been ubiquitous in the market on broadcast TV, digital platforms and streaming services. The campaign has bought $250,000 worth of airtime for the ad.

An AI-assisted re-working of the ad that altered Gingrich’s voice already appeared on social media last week, but the pro-racetrack Twitter account that posted it was suspended.

The meeting, which took place at a suite at the Racetrack at 1 p.m. on Wednesday, mainly was an attempt to convince Gingrich to change his mind about the deal. After a presentation, Gingrich said that not only did they want his ads to come down, they wanted him to come out and endorse the racetrack plan. He asked Partin to send financial documents to his campaign and then they left. He’s still opposed to the deal.

“Again, the city’s gonna have to back the bonds, and even the backing of those bonds inhibits the debt capacity of the city. And so you have a risk that the city taxpayer, whether or not it is immediate, or 15 years into this thing is on the hook. And given the [Bruton] Smith family in the form of BMS has no skin in the game, they’re not putting any equity into this. Nor are they willing to guarantee the bonds. And that’s just the type of lopsided thing people are just frustrated with.”

Gingrich pointed out that Nashville SC guaranteed the bonds for Geodis Park.

Partin called Gingrich’s campaign last week and asked for a meeting. According to a Gingrich staffer, Partin said he would only need five minutes to talk Gingrich out of opposing the $164 million plan to revitalize the facility and bring NASCAR back to the track for the first time since the 1980s.

“Here’s the facts,” said Partin. “There’s no taxpayer money. Bristol pays the whole deal. And when you say there’s taxpayer money it’s false. It is a revenue bond. Revenue bonds are not issued unless the numbers add up.” Partin says the lease agreement BMS would sign is the “skin in the game” Gingrich is looking for.

“It will be nice to remove this 30-year issue from politics,” Partin said.

It’s the latest in a series of escalating conflicts between the Fairgrounds Speedway and BMS, backed by the billionaire Smith family, and anti-racetrack opponents, joined by billionaire John Ingram, principal owner of Nashville SC. The racetrack plan that goes before the Metro Council would have the city issue bonds backed by lease payments, event revenue and the capture of taxes from events at the facility. Both the state and the Nashville Convention and Visitors Corp. (funded mainly by hotel taxes) have pledged $17 million each to cover design and initial construction costs. A final estimate on construction is not expected until November.

Metro is the final backstop for the deal if revenues fall short of the amount necessary to cover the bonds.

There are currently four lawsuits challenging the legitimacy of a law that changes the number of Metro Council votes required to tear down and reconstruct the track’s grandstand. In one of them, a three-judge panel was appointed to hear arguments on the law’s constitutionality at the end of the month.

The deal is running out of time in this term. A public hearing for the proposal has not been scheduled until July 25, which would only leave two regularly scheduled Metro Council meetings to hear the bill. Three are required for passage, meaning a special-called meeting would be needed. A workaround proposed by CM Zach Young was deferred in a Metro Council planning and zoning committee meeting yesterday.

Steve is a three-decade veteran of newspapers, working around the country at places like the Washington Post and Chicago Tribune before returning home to Nashville in 2011 to edit The City Paper and Nashville...