Another successful year for New Hampshire Motor SpeedwayBy MARK LABORE
New Hampshire Union Leader
September 24. 2012 8:31PM
The smoke from NASCAR Sylvania 300 winner Denny Hamlin's Sunday grandstand burnout has finally cleared and the major portion of the racing schedule at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon has concluded, but work in the speedway's administrative offices continues.
NHMS Executive Vice President and General Manager Jerry Gappens was at his desk Monday, assessing the past season and planning the next.
'It was an excellent race week that culminated with a crowd of 98,000 fans,' said Gappens. 'I sent out a memo to the staff that we just hosted one of the top five largest NASCAR crowds of the year.'
In July, the speedway hosted the NASCAR Lenox Industrial Tools 301, which drew 95,000 spectators to the Granite State. Attendance at the 'Magic Mile' in large part has guaranteed the Loudon track two Sprint Cup races during the 2013 season.
'We had a lot of feedback from the drivers, the crews and the NASCAR officials, and all of them expressed their appreciation for the fans of New England,' said Gappens. 'Several drivers said to me that during the pre-race pace laps it was 'great to look up and see a full house.''
The Sylvania 300 weekend was the first since 1996 that the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series did not compete at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Gappens noted that the absence of the trucks and the addition of three regional series - NASCAR's Whelen Modified and K&N Pro East series as well as the American Canadian Tour - was a boost for local fans.
'It really turned out well,' Gappens said. 'We had three great races with the regional series, and Saturday's attendance here actually outdrew the truck and Nationwide races that were held at Kentucky Motor Speedway.'
New Hampshire Motor Speedway actively markets in Canada, and according to Gappens, nine percent of the speedway's Sunday crowd is Canadian.
'The trucks are terribly expensive to bring in, yet we still posted purses Saturday which were in comparison to what we offer the trucks' Gappens said.
There was a great deal of speculation when O. Bruton Smith bought the track from former owner Bob Bahre that he would move one of the New Hampshire race dates to Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Then he bought Kentucky Motor Speedway, which had no NASCAR Sprint Cup date, and again move a New Hampshire date there.
'NASCAR likes being here (at NHMS). Bruton likes what he sees here and has spent a great deal of money making improvements to the facility. I think Loudon is a natural market for two race dates,' said Gappens.
But there may be changes.
When the speedway opened in June, 1990, Bristol Motor Speedway was the lone NASCAR circuit to have lights. Now, more than half of all NASCAR tracks have lights.
'Lights are something that we are exploring,' Gappens admitted, 'but there were rights and covenants that were put in place in 1989. I think the day will come when NASCAR mandates lights.
'The No. 1 request we get from fans is to have a night July race,' the general manager continued. 'We follow up on our ticket non-renewals, and people say the July afternoon heat is too much for them.'
Gappens compared the lighting situation to that of residents who live near the Chicago Cubs' Wrigley Field.
'For years, the Cubs never played night games, but once the lights were installed, it's pretty well accepted now,' he said.
One last major event remains on the 2012 NHMS schedule - The Gift of Lights Festival.
Last year, 15,000 vehicles passed over the speedway grounds to view the Christmas lights display. The endeavor generated $22,000 for Speedway Children's Charities, and it yielded 20,000 pounds of food for the Loudon Food Bank and other local food pantries.
'We are strong believers in reaching out to be good community partners with the State of New Hampshire,' Gappens said.