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September 26. 2012 1:58AM

NHMS wants lights in Loudon


Dale Earnhardt Jr. (88) crosses the finish line under the lights in last year’s Coca Cola 600 — one of three NASCAR Sprint Cup night races held each year at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway. Charlotte is the home track of Speedway Motor Sports, which also owns New Hampshire Motor Speedway. (Kevin Liles/US PRESSWIRE)
LOUDON — The New Hampshire Motor Speedway is asking residents their opinions about night racing in response to overwhelming fan requests, according to the track’s executive vice president and general manager.

Jerry Gappens said the track, working with the town on its upcoming master plan update survey, added a question regarding night racing “to see if there could be a day in the foreseeable future to have lights for our July NASCAR races” so fans could avoid the heat of the day.

The survey, which will be included in the town’s October newsletter and featured on its web site, is designed to gather input from residents about potential changes and improvements in town in the coming decade.

Gappens said the track asked about night racing as well as future traffic patterns.

“We’re trying to be completely honest and open in our community, and the fact is that it’s becoming more and more of an issue. Ninety percent of the feedback we’ve had favors night races in July because people have said they have been hot and uncomfortable in the daytime,” he said.

The past four July NASCAR races have had declining attendance, as opposed to the September races, which have been more steadily attended, Gappens said.

Part of that decline has been due to the sluggish economy, he said, but in feedback received through fan forums and other methods, race fans have said they don’t like the 80- to 90-degree heat during July.

With night racing, the Friday-Sunday event would switch to a Friday and Saturday night racing schedule, he said.

The track has been working under a legal agreement between the founder of what is now New Hampshire Motor Speedway and a group calling itself “Concerned Racetrack Neighbors.”

The 1989 agreement with track founder Bob Bahre, which prohibits night racing, is still binding on Speedway Motorsports Inc., the track’s current owner.

The nature of NASCAR racing has changed since that agreement was made, Gappens said. In 1989, only one NASCAR race site had lighting. Now about half of NASCAR tracks across the country have lights and night racing, he said, and the industry is trending in that direction.

Installing lights at the track, which is not forbidden under the agreement, would be a $3 million to $5 million investment for Speedway Motorsports, Gappens said. The company already has made that investment at six of its eight tracks, he said.

“This is the one major area that has been very restrictive on our new business in Loudon,” he said.

Arnie Alpert, a Canterbury resident who said he lives “about a half-mile from the speedway as the decibels fly,” was among area residents who secured the agreement with Bahre in 1989. He said he and other residents are still against the idea of night racing.

In July, in fact, he sent a note to Gappens complaining about a late race start that went into the evening.

“It’s a quality-of-life issue; the races are very noisy,” he said. “We still have a binding legal agreement.”

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Dan Seufert may be reached at dseufert@newstote.com.

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