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September 21. 2011 11:41PM

Allen Lessels Motor Sports: IndyCar series unlikely to return to NHMS

LOUDON -- Jerry Gappens and his New Hampshire Motor Speedway team geared up on Wednesday for what he hopes will be a crowd of 100,000-plus people for the Sylvania 300, the second race in NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, and the final major event of the track's busiest season ever.

Gappens sat in his office and talked excitedly about how the results Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr. had on Monday at Chicagoland Speedway energized their championship runs and about how tight the competition is as the Chase continues with Sunday's race.

The track's general manager and executive vice president was much more subdued when he discussed how next season is apt to be a little less busy at the track.

Gappens said it is “highly unlikely,” that the Izod IndyCar series will be returning to the track next summer.

“Based on the information I have right now, I'd say they won't be coming back,” Gappens said.

It is not an assessment Gappens expected, or wanted, to make.

He pushed hard for three years to get the Indy cars, which last raced at the speedway in 1998, back on the track's schedule and was thrilled a year ago when he landed a date for this August.

But then a crowd of about 28,000 showed up.

“Forty thousand was what it was going to take to have a chance to make money,” Gappens said. “When the bills got paid, it was a significant loss.”

A final decision has not been made and Gappens said the door is not closed on a return for the series, but he's not at all optimistic about the event happening again.

“I'd say it's highly unlikely at this point,” Gappens said. “If they wanted to come in and rent the track and assume the risk, they could do that. Or if they brought in some corporate sponsorship that would help underwrite some of it, those are really the only two ways we could look at continuing it.”

Gappens said he enjoyed working with Randy Bernard, who runs IndyCar, and the series.

“I like Randy, the series people were good and the drivers were very cooperative,” Gappens said. “I have nothing negative to say about the series. The bottom line is we didn't sell enough tickets to cover the expenses of putting on one of those races. I'm responsible for selling tickets here and at the end of the day I didn't get the job done.”

He's not quite sure why and he feels especially bad for the fans who did come and support the event, many of whom sent him notes in praise of it afterwards.

The track advertised the race — which carries an expense in sanction and purse fees of more than seven figures, Gappens said — and he's proud of how hard his team worked, with the help of the Indy people, at promoting and marketing it.

Perhaps, he said, having three major events over the span of three months was too much. Perhaps the IndyCar series, which has been down in recent years, has not sufficiently recovered.

“I can't figure out why there weren't more advanced ticket sales,” Gappens said. “As I've said before, we're in a business where people vote by buying tickets whether they like it or not, or want to support it.”

It appears likely that race fans have voted out Indy cars, as they continue to vote NASCAR in.

The Chase resumes with Stewart, who won at Chicagoland, in second place and trailing leader Kevin Harvick by seven points. Carl Edwards is 10 points behind Harvick, Kurt Busch 11 back and Earnhardt, Jr. 13 out of the lead.

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Admission is free at the track today. Practice and qualifying for the K&N Pro Series East and NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour dominate the on-track action.

A FanFest celebration begins at 5 p.m. in the display lot outside the tunnel to the infield and includes interview and autograph sessions with the K&N Pro Series and Whelen Modified pole winners, an interview and autograph session with Camping World Truck Series driver Justin Lofton and an interview session with Gappens.

A New Hampshire Lottery bid to set a record for the world's largest scratch ticket, with a fan picked to do the scratching, is at 6:30.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup series hauler parade is at 7 p.m., a question and answer period with Cup driver David Reutimann runs from 7:30-8 p.m. and country singer Brett Eldredge performs from 8 to 9 p.m.

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The Sprint Cup cars are scheduled to make their first appearance on the track on Friday for a practice session from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Cup qualifying starts at 3:10 p.m. on Friday.

Allen Lessels covers motor sports for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. He may be reached at alessels@unionleader.com.


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