NASCAR fans saddened to see final fall race, but hopeful for new events

Sunday News Correspondent
September 23. 2017 9:49PM
NASCAR Cup Series driver Kyle Busch won the pole position Friday, meaning he'll start in the first position in today's ISM Connect 300 at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon. (Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports)

LOUDON -- The September roar of engines, sweep of checkered flags and lobsters raised high will end today for New Hampshire NASCAR fans.

Speedway Motorsports, the company that owns the New Hampshire Motor Speedway, announced a year ago that it was moving the fall Cup Series race to its Las Vegas track starting next year.

For many longtime Granite State race fans, the news was a deep disappointment.

Brian Macinnis of Dover said he took two extra days off from work this year to spend as much time as possible at the speedway.

"A lot of friends came," he said. "I know there's extra people here."

Macinnis, like many other fans, has been coming to the September race on-and-off for two decades.

"We play July by ear because it's so hot," he said.

The track has been holding NASCAR Cup races since 1993, bringing in tens of thousands of people from around the world each July and September. Track officials hoped this weekend's race would bring upward of 90,000 people. The winner of the July and September races traditionally is given a prize lobster to hoist in the winner's circle.

John and Judy Baker, who were selling food to help out a friend, said the loss is something that their customers had been talking about.

"There's a lot of unhappiness about it," John Baker said. " ... It's a shame to see something that's grown so big to be brought down."

Fremont resident Matt Stewart said he's saddened and that usually it's exciting since it's a playoff race. Stewart, who has been attending NASCAR races for decades with his family, said the September race also holds a special place in his heart since it usually falls near his birthday. Stewart has been celebrating his birthday at the track for the last two decades.

"It ruins my birthday weekend," the 32-year-old said.

New York resident Craig Poulton said he prefers the cooler September weather and will miss the race but is not shocked about the move.

"I think the whole NASCAR thing is evaporating anyways," he said.

Poulton said he's noticed attendance decline over the last 20 years. He mostly looks forward to catching up with other fans he's met over the years.

Poulton said he also thinks the race's exit will have a big economic impact for the region.

"It's a good economic boost for this area," he said.

State officials also are pondering the economic effects from the loss, though statistics about any business boons aren't kept for race weekends.

Mike Somers, president and CEO of the New Hampshire Lodging & Restaurant Association, called the race big business.

"It's a pretty significant bump for the short period of time it happens for the state of New Hampshire," Somers said. "Rooms and meals tax, gas sales that go with it. Even the grocery store, a lot of people will stay in campers close to the track while they're stocking up on groceries and beer.

"The liquor stores will see a bump in business," he said. "There's a pretty big impact ... within 30 to 50 miles of the track."

Although this will be the last fall NASCAR Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, it won't be the last September race held at the track.

David McGrath, executive vice president and general manager, announced Friday that there will be three minor races held next September. The "Short Track Extravaganza" will feature a NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour race; NASCAR K&N Pro Series East with drivers from the PEAK Mexico and Whelen Euro series; and the NASCAR Pinty's Series, which has only been held in Canada.

"We are creating a short-track weekend that I think fans from the Northeast are going to be really excited about," McGrath said.

The two-day event will be held on Sept. 21 and 22 next year. McGrath said he expects from 15,000 to 20,000 attendees.

"We'll start there and hope to grow that," he said. "We certainly have the space to do it."

Macinnis, the fan from Dover, said that he hopes the speedway also expands the July line-up.

"A night race would be awesome," he said. "I think they can do more here."

Track owners are also looking to bring a three-day country concert series to the track.

An estimated 60,000 people would be expected over the course of the festival.

If approved, McGrath said the track would be partnering with Live Nation concerts to provide a "top-notch, world-class" event.

The concerts would be held from Friday to Saturday, and would begin at 2 p.m. The last show would end at 10:30 p.m., McGrath said.

McGrath said the track had been considering such events even before the September NASCAR race was moved to Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

"Venues around the country are evolving their property and that's what we want to do as well," McGrath said.

No decisions have been made as of yet. The Loudon Zoning Board of Adjustment will be meeting on Sept. 28.

Poulton said that this would definitely be something that he would consider coming to and that it would be something that would draw people to the speedway in the fall.

"I hope they make something out of that," he said. "I really do."

Union Leader Reporter Michael Cousineau contributed to this report.

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