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Military cuts may ground fly-overs at NHMS

Union Leader Correspondent

February 28. 2013 11:23PM

A B-52 bomber flies over New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon before the start of the Sylvania 300 last Sept. 23. Such flyovers will be grounded by federal cuts if sequestration goes into effect. (USA TODAY SPORTS)

LOUDON - If government cutbacks mean an end to traditional military aircraft fly-overs before NASCAR races, New Hampshire Motor Speedway will find a new way to honor American service men and women before races start, according to the track's general manager.

"Information from our military contacts doesn't look hopeful in the wake of impending military cutbacks," NHMS' Jerry Gappens said of the government's $85 billion sequestration cuts.

"Nonetheless, we are optimistic and looking at ways to replace the fly-over with something just as exciting and visual," he said, declining to elaborate further.

Wendy Varhegyi, chief of the engagement division for Air Force public affairs, told USA TODAY Sports that the Air Force Thunderbirds are scheduled for a fly-over March 10 at a Las Vegas Motor Speedway NASCAR event.

"The Thunderbirds are expected to stand down effective April 1. (Las Vegas) is pretty much going to be, I think, the last fly-over you'll see for a while from us," Varhegyi said.

The curtailment would be at least through the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30, she said.

"And then at that point, we'll reevaluate ... Sequestration is a 10-year problem, so we just don't know."

Varhegyi told the newspaper that the Air Force conducts about 1,000 fly-overs a year at sports venues and other events. They are made in conjunction with pre-allotted training hours for pilots. Under sequestration, such training hours would be curtailed.

"It's no additional cost to the government for support of any public events," she said. "Typically, if you see a unit fly over a football game, that is 90 seconds out of a several-hour training sorte that they're flying.''

The fly-overs mean a lot to race fans at NHMS, Gappens said.

"Military fly-overs have been a long-standing tradition for many NASCAR pre-race ceremonies, including here at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. The fly-overs give us the opportunity to celebrate our military and our country while adding entertainment value to our events," he said Thursday.

Gappens said speedway officials will begin seeking an alternative in the coming days and weeks.

"We are truly committed to our fans and will continue to be a destination for 'wow' by providing them with a high level of motorsports entertainment," he said.

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