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October 14. 2011 11:17PM

NH speedway drops IndyCar racing

The ear-piercing whine of IndyCars at New Hampshire Motor Speedway is a thing of the past.

After a brief one-race visit to the Loudon track in August, the Izod IndyCar Series will not return to the 1.058-mile New Hampshire oval in 2012 or the foreseeable future.

The recent MoveThatBlock.com 225 IndyCar Series race drew just 28,000 fans and failed to meet the financial expectations NHMS officials had hoped for as they sought to make IndyCar racing at the speedway a permanent fixture after an absence of 13 years.

Though no exact monetary amounts were given by speedway officials, auto racing industry insiders suggest the track's fiscal loss could have approached seven figures.

The Izod IndyCar schedule for 2012 is expected to be announced early next week, and on Friday, New Hampshire Motor Speedway Executive Vice President and General Manager Jerry Gappens confirmed the New Hampshire track is not among its venues.

“Unfortunately, after several discussions involving our chairman, Bruton Smith, IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard and myself, the Izod IndyCar Series will not return to New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2012,” said Jerry Gappens.

“Both sides had hoped and intended to create a long-term relationship, but unfortunately we could not mutually agree on an economic model that would make an IndyCar Series race financially successful, which it was not on 2011,” Gappens said.

“There is a willingness by IndyCar to come back and make it work, and their schedule certainly needs ovals. That's a high priority. But we overestimated the fan interest in this style of racing,” Gappens added.

Though attendance is down at nearly all venues in every form of auto racing, New Hampshire Motor Speedway continues to draw an estimated 95,000 fans for both of its NASCAR Sprint Cup events in July and September, two of the most successful races on the NASCAR circuit. Those races will take place on July 15 and Sept. 23 in 2012.

But the lure of IndyCar racing did not attract the fans nor the corporate sponsorships to the speedway this past summer.

“Despite an aggressive promotional effort, the event did not meet the expectations of corporate partnerships and ticket sales,” Gappens said. “Aside from the severe financial setback, we had great feedback from those who attended the exciting event.”

Gappens had pushed hard to bring the IndyCars to NHMS for three years before landing this past August's date. He said that a crowd of 35,000-40,000 was necessary for the event to be viable. The August event drew spectators from 37 states and four foreign countries.

“Our goal was to add a third major event for the state and thought we could accomplish that,” said Gappens. “I feel bad for the fans who bought a ticket. Unfortunately, there were not enough who supported that racing style. Honestly, I don't completely understand it, but we're still in challenging times. I hope the door is not closed (for an IndyCar return) for the future.”

The MoveThatBlock.com 225 was won by Ryan Hunter-Reay, but was plagued by rain and marked with controversy. A late-race restart on a damp track resulted in a multicar accident, and the race's premature termination with finishing results set according to car places prior to the restart. That finish-order decision was protested by several drivers, but upheld after a series hearing.

In addition to New Hampshire, the Izod IndyCar Series will not return to Milwaukee, Kentucky or Japan as well in 2012.

Because of the IndyCar loss, Gappens said, “We're looking at other options with larger fan appeal, from a car show to a flea market to super cross to monster trucks, things that draw big crowds in other parts of the country. Heck, we saw hockey at Fenway Park, so we're committed to grow New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

“We want to fill hotels and bring people to the State of New Hampshire,” he said. “The state needs revenue as do our business partners.”

The companion events staged during the speedway's two Sprint Cup Weekends have not been confirmed by NASCAR as yet, but it is expected that the NASCAR Nationwide Series will race in Loudon on July 14, and the Camping World Series trucks will compete on Sept. 22, as is traditionally the case.

The track will remain active every week from April through October despite the loss of the IndyCar race. Its schedule typically opens with an open house the day before Easter and features weekly on-track events such as its Vintage Celebration, the Loudon Classic motorcycle races and numerous club events staged by the Sports Car Club of America and the Loudon Road Racing Series among others.

“I have a lot of respect for Randy (IndyCar CEO Bernard) and the IndyCar staff, teams, drivers and everyone we worked with to bring open-wheel racing back to New England,” Gappen said. “I wish them nothing but success as they continue to build that product and brand of racing.”


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