A new, more compact and action-packed form of auto racing is hitting the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, and it is geared toward younger fans.
The Sylvania Silverstar ZXE Global RallyCross tour makes its debut at 7 p.m. Saturday. It will be shown live nationwide on ESPN, following the NASCAR Whelan Modified Tour's Town Fair Tire 100 at 1 p.m. and the NASCAR Nationwide Series F.W. Webb 200 at 3:30 p.m.
The main event of the weekend is the Lenox Industrial Tools 301, which will draw about 100,000 race fans to the speedway Sunday at 1 p.m.
RallyCross is a blend of off-road racing, circuit racing, and rally competition that has been described in the past as “motocross with a roll cage.”
It is a sport that has been popular in Europe for several years, and in the past three years has caught on in America — especially among X-Games fans, said Subaru Motorsports U.S. Marketing Manager James Han, who was observing practice runs at the track Tuesday.
“This sport has been attracting new eyeballs,” Han said. “We think it's one of the most exciting forms of motorsports in the world.”
The race cars are enhanced versions of small sedans, with engines that have much greater torque and are capable of more than 500 horsepower, Han said. The cars' suspensions are also enhanced to absorb the jumps. They have roll cages so that the drivers, many of whom are converted motorcycle racers, will be protected in the event of a crash, Han said.
Given the daredevil nature of the sport, crashes happen.
“It only lasts about an hour, and it's an action-packed hour,” said Jerry Gappens, the speedway's executive vice president and general manager.
“Young people today have a short attention span; they want non-stop action, and this is a very exciting form of motorsports,” Gappens said.
An oval track was being constructed Tuesday for race practices on one side of the infield area of the speedway, with decking and ramps to make jumps and curves for the drivers. During races, the souped-up sedans accelerate to 60 mph and beyond in short spurts before whipping around banked curves and going between jumps on the straight track.
Drivers go through a series of timed events to a final race, a five-lap race with multiple cars jostling for position.
The race will feature drivers Travis Pastrana, Ken Block, and Dave Mirra, all of whom were at the X-Games in Los Angeles this past weekend. The race is the fourth in a five-event schedule.
RallyCross brings a new element to NHMS, and if it is successful this year, Gappens said it's possible the event could return next summer as a warm-up to a major NASCAR race.
“You watch them race and you think, 'These guys are crazy, but they're sure fun to watch,'” he said.
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Dan Seufert may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.