After the IndyCar race, feasibility questionsBy ALAN LESSELS
New Hampshire Union Leader
August 15. 2011 10:27PM
LOUDON - Jerry Gappens spent the last couple of years trying to convince the IndyCar Series to bring its high-speed show back to New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
He'll spend the next couple of weeks deciding whether he wants them to return to the track in 2012.
If a wild and crazy finish and the buzz generated by it are part of the equation, look for Dario Franchitti and Helio Castroneves to get another shot at the one-mile oval and for Ryan Hunter-Reay to be back to defend his race win.
'This track is a lot of fun,' said Hunter-Reay after surviving a last-minutes pileup on the track and an officials' ruling to pull down his first win of the year in the MoveThatBlock.com Indy 225 on Sunday. 'If I have my way, we'll be coming back here for many years to come. Hopefully that's the case.'
NHMS and IndyCar had a multi-year agreement, but Gappens said he has until Sept. 1 to decide whether to go forward with next year's second race in the deal.
The question is whether Gappens and IndyCar can grow the event to the point where it can generate enough interest, in terms of attendance and financial support, to continue.
'Ideally, I'd like to have them come back,' Gappens said on Monday night. 'But we've got to make it work from a financial standpoint. The encouraging thing is I came in this morning and had a dozen emails that were printed out for me from race fans and every one of them was positive, which is unusual for the morning after a race. Usually there are a couple of hiccups.'
In consultation with Bruton Smith, CEO of track owner Speedway Motorsports Inc., along with IndyCar chief executive officer Randy Bernard and his people, Gappens will try to determine whether it's feasible to keep the race.
'I talked to Bruton last night and one of the things Ttalked talked about was trying to generate more corporate support for the race,' Gappens said. 'With that, and certainly with some more fans buying tickets, I think we're on to something. But I think it's going to take that to make it work.'
Among the questions Gappens and the others will consider is whether it makes sense to squeeze the IndyCar date between the track's two NASCAR Sprint Cup events in July and September.
Gappens estimated that about 30,000 fans attended Sunday's race. He anticipated when the race was announced more than a year ago, that it could draw between 35,000-40,000.
'When we decided to have an event here, we knew we were going to have to build on it,' Bernard said before Sunday's race. 'I wouldn't say we're disappointed. Did we think we'd have more? Yes, I will say that. But the fact is we are significantly up from the last time. I think we're making progress.'
Bernard and Gappens said that track builder and former owner Bob Bahre told them that the last two years the Indy Racing League brought Indy cars to the track in 1997 and 1998, there were crowds of 7,500 and 8,000.
'But he said they had 40,000 paid in its heyday,' Bernard said. 'There are fans here. There are fans all over the United States and all over the world. It's a matter of re-educating them and showing them the credibility of our drivers and how they are phenomenal and our cars are great. It's going to take some time.'
Sunday's questionable weather didn't help walk-up sales of tickets, said Gappens after the race, while noting a that crowd of 30,000 may not have looked like much in the vast grandstands at NHMS, but it would have filled the Milwaukee venue where IndyCar also races and would be a decent showing at many other tracks.
'Having said that, there is room for improvement,' Gappens said. 'And we need to do better than that.'
Bernard and IndyCar like NHMS for the Boston market and they like having ovals on their schedule to keep a balance with street and rod courses. Drivers loved the challenge of the track with its long straightaways and tight corners, Bernard said.
'We want to work with Jerry and Bruton,' he said. 'We want to look at today and just sit down and reevaluate everything after we have time to get our arms around the financials. We want to look at the marketing and the promotion and how much PR we were able to get, too, and see what we do with ABC as well.'
Gappens and others will crunch the numbers and talk to the IndyCar people and make a decision on whether to try again.
One thing was clear: Sunday was not lacking for drama.
IndyCar officials, hoping to provide an exciting finish for the fans, tried to get the race restarted late after a caution flag was out for moist conditions. But the track was too wet and the move backfired when Danica Patrick spun across the track and took out the cars of Will Power and Takuma Sato.
That created a mess near the start/finish line and angered a bunch of drivers and a few more got upset when officials ruled the results were going to be posted as if the restart never happened.
'They'll certainly be talking about this race for quite a while,' said Al Speyer, executive director of Firestone Racing, the company that supplies tires to the series. 'Unusual finish aside, there was so much exciting racing and passing throughout the field before the rain, it was almost non-stop.'
Hunter-Reay summed the day up: 'I love these short ovals. They are so much fun. It was a strange day. But sometimes racing is strange.'
Allen Lessels covers motor sports for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.