Marcus Ericsson crossing the finish line at the inaugural Big Machine Music City Grand Prix. Photo: Courtesy of the Music City Grand Prix
IndyCar season is underway and the third annual Big Machine Music City Grand Prix is gearing back up for its busy weekend between Aug. 4-6 with tons of new additions to the festivities as well as a night time race under the lights.
When putting together a massive weekend event like this, there is a lot work to do, especially in the preparation aspect. Three years in, Music City Grand Prix (MCGP) President & COO Jason Rittenberry and his team are still working around the calendar to improve, enhance and make this race weekend one of the best and most unique in IndyCar.
“The biggest difference between years two and three and years two and one is that we really took a step back and looked at what worked, what didn’t work,” said Rittenberry in an interview with The Sports Credential. “From year one to year two, we didn’t change a whole lot because we didn’t feel like with just one year, with it being an inaugural year, being such an anomaly, being the first major event back after Covid, we didn’t feel that we could make judgements and decisions on things that worked or not after one year.
“We really wanted to wait after year two and that’s what we did.”
He and his team took time reflecting on the first two races and listened to what fans had to say and how the MCGP can make the overall experience better. Almost all the changes for the 2023 event came from direct conversations with fans, said Rittenberry.
One of the biggest changes are going to be the times of certain events throughout the weekend. Fans will have a chance to watch the SRO GR and SRO GT races under the lights on Saturday night while getting the featured Big Machine Music City Grand Prix IndyCar race at 11:30 a.m. on Sunday, helping fans beat the mid afternoon heat in August. The event will end by 6 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 6. There will also be changes to the concert times as the MCGP team knows how long the days are and want to give fans ample time to watch racing and enjoy the concerts as well.
There will not be a Grand Ole Opry concert onsite this year due to the timing decisions they’ve made, but the main concert taking place on Saturday, Aug. 5, will be at 6 p.m., immediately after the final NTT IndyCar Series practice, allowing fans to watch the practice and hop right over to the main stage rather than spreading them out. In the two previous events, the IndyCar practice ended around 5:30 p.m. but the concert began between 8:30 p.m. and 9 p.m.. Fans who only were interested in seeing the NTT IndyCar series events weren’t staying those three extra hours to wait for a concert.
Nashville in August can be brutal and the heat during race times can be rough. Obviously, dealing with the heat and the weather is difficult but important for the MCGP team. That’s why they’ve decided to move events to either late at night or before noon.
Scott Dixon celebrating his 2022 Big Machine Music City Grand Prix win in victory circle. Photo: Courtesy of the Music City Grand Prix.
“It is warm in August and there’s not a lot we can do about the forecast and about the weather, and there’s not a lot we can do about the date we were awarded from IndyCar so we have to make the best of that,” said Rittenberry. “We heard the fans and that the heat around 2-3 p.m. in the afternoon is the hottest part of the day, so we took a hard look at our schedule and worked with our partners at the sanctioning bodies and TV networks and got several of the races moved. Most importantly, the Saturday GT America race, which is going to be the coolest part of the weekend, we’re racing at night, under the lights.”
To also help fans battle the heat, they are double the shade tents around the Nissan Stadium campus. They’ve also added more air conditioned inside areas, allowing fans a break from the elements to cool off a bit. The ultimate goal is to give attendees the best possible experience and make it as comfortable as possible with what Mother Nature gives.
Rittenberry and his MCGP team know that hardcore racing fans will be at the event regardless of the concert times, the heat or whatever comes their way. These changes being made are not only for the casual racing fan but for those who want to come to this event that aren’t big racing fans but want to get in on the fun. Making this a festival for all walks of life to enjoy is a top priority for Rittenberry.
“For those fans that are experience seekers, that just want to go to any event in the city that’s fun, that’s the fan we’re trying to reach,” said Rittenberry. “To them I would say, we’re not just a race. The race is part of it, it’s the reason we have this party and it’s a three day party, three day festival with music, food vendors, adult beverages. Everything you’re looking for in an event and all the things that make all the other events in the city fun we have here. We just happen to have a race going on at the same time.”
Photo: by Steven Boero
One thing that will be the same and will continue to be attractive to both racing and non-racing fans is the event’s proximity to Lower Broadway and the fact that the race isn’t like any other IndyCar race or any other street course race. It’s very unique and the MCGP team is continuing to make it unique as not only a destination event for racing fans, but a great local attraction for Middle Tennessee residents.
“There is no other race in North America that has Broadway just a bridge away,” says Rittenberry. “So that’s what we’re embracing with Nashville’s Downtown district and embracing that as part of our event and honestly taking advantage of that.”
Another reason this race is so special is because of its partnership with Big Machine Label Group. Nothing helps the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix standout more than the fact that one of the city’s most successful independent record labels is the main sponsor. BMLG artists like Tim McGraw, Jon Pardi and Carly Pearce have been some of the headlining performers over the past two years. Founder & President of BMLG Scott Borchetta was an integral part of bringing this street race to Nashville as Borchetta is an avid racing fan and competitive driver himself racing in the Tran Am Series and being a NASCAR Xfinity Series owner.
Jon Pardi performing at the 2021 Big Machine Music City Grand Prix. Photo: Aaron Skillman
“We have the best partner and best sponsor of any race by far and that’s because of Scott’s passion for motorsports, his passion for this city and his passion for this event being a phenomenal and top notch event,” said Rittenberry. “Scott wants everything to be the best as we do, and is partner that wants that not only as a title sponsor but an owner. He’s an owner and investor in this race and Big Machine with all of their different companies.”
With all this growth and expansion, it’s safe to say the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix is becoming a mainstay event in Nashville. But as the East Bank development project continues to rollout and the likeliness of a new Titans Stadium being built is becoming a reality, it begs to ask if this event will continue and renew once the current deal with the city is over. But conversations between the city, MCGP team and the Titans have been underway and plans are being made to keep the race on the streets of Nashville regardless if Nissan Stadium stays or if a rebuild happens and the Cumberland River project is done.
“We’re in the process of signing a three year extension with IndyCar and the city. So the race isn’t going anywhere, we will be here, we will be in Downtown Nashville, we will be racing on the streets. What that course design layout looks like, I can’t tell you beyond 2023,” states Rittenberry. We have been in meetings with Metro, public works with NDOT (Nashville Department of Transportation & Multimodal Infrastructure) and Nissan Stadium for over six months and are in regularly scheduled meetings to follow up and to stay in the loop on the progress of what’s happening here.
Photo: Steven Boero
“We are currently looking at other designs for the course, what other options may be considered for us. Our track designer Tony Cotman is doing that now so when that happens, whether that is after the 2023 race, after the 2024 race or whenever the stadium is approved by Metro Council and they start construction we will be prepared and we will be ready.”
With all this preparation and all the work that’s put into this event, Rittenberry’s favorite moment has been and still is when that green flag drops in the main racing event. All the work leads up to that moment where all eyes turn to the track and the talented drivers to watch the race he and his team put on.
“It’s when it all comes to life and you just sit back and say ‘this is what we’ve worked for for a year,'” Rittenberry shares. “I remember my very first time as a young 25-year-old general manager in NASCAR when I stepped out on that stage and welcomed 50,000 fans to a NASCAR race and then two minutes later they fired the engines and made that first lap, right then I knew I was doing what I wanted to do for the rest of my life and that’s what made it all worth it.”