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Turning the corner
Loudon speedway adjusts to losing NASCAR race

07/19/18



 By Scott Murphy

smurphy@hippopress.com 
 
With one of the two annual NASCAR races traditionally held at New Hampshire Motor Speedway being moved to Las Vegas this year, NHMS has adjusted to the change with a series of facility improvements, a new modified car race and a proposed country music festival — all efforts that may help minimize the impact that losing the race might have on tourism.
 
And then there was one
NASCAR Cup races have been some of New Hampshire’s most significant annual tourist attractions for the last 20 years, when NHMS, located in Loudon, started hosting two races around July and September each year. Southern New Hampshire University published a study on the two races’ economic impact in 2011, reporting that both race weekends combined brought about $180 million into the state each year. 
After years of speculation about a potential move, the two-decade tradition came to an end last year. Speedway Motorsports announced in March 2017 that the September race at NHMS would be moving to Las Vegas in 2018 as part of a $2.5 million incentive package from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, according to ESPN. Speedway Motorsports owns eight race tracks across the country, including the speedways in Loudon and Las Vegas.  
“I certainly understand the business side of the way it works; there was a lot of investment from [the Las Vegas] market to move the race, and that’s hard to come by these days,” said David McGrath, executive vice president and general manager of NHMS. “I feel bad for the fans. I think they’ve come to enjoy the two [NASCAR Cup] races in the summer. But at the end of the day, we’re still going to put on a great show for race fans who come to the track.”
 
Moving forward
That starts with the Foxwoods Resort Casino 301, this year’s July installment of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series on Sunday, July 22. The weekend will kick off with pre-race events starting on Friday, July 20, including a performance from the rock band Loverboy at 11 a.m. on Sunday.
McGrath said Foxwoods Resort Casino’s sponsorship of the race is the continuation of a partnership that will “bring some cool things online.” For example, fans who renewed their NHMS tickets on July race weekend last year received a free overnight stay at Foxwoods. 
McGrath added that NHMS has invested in several facility improvements, including upgrades to box suites, new entry ways, a completely redesigned front entrance and new monuments. NHMS also revamped its trackside terrace and camping sites, adding full power, water and sewer services. Campsites for this year’s race sold out within days of the announcement, according to McGrath.
One of the track’s biggest additions is a new VIP Track Bar in the main grandstand suites right above the start/finish line. The suite includes a cash bar and private bathrooms and will be open to 76 people over the course of the July race weekend. Various ticket packages include perks like a pre-race pit pass and a guided tour of the facility.
 
The race must go on
Though the July race weekend will be the only NASCAR Cup event at NHMS this year, race fans will still have a reason to head to the speedway come September, as it will be replacing its traditional September race with three new, short track races during the Full Throttle Fall Weekend on Friday, Sept. 21, and Saturday, Sept. 22. 
The main event of the weekend will be the Musket 250, a 250-lap stock car race that marks the longest race in the history of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series, according to NHMS. Modified cars are open-wheeled and shorter and wider than cars raced in the NASCAR Monster Cup Series. 
The weekend will also include a 125-lap championship points race for the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, as well as a 100-lap NASCAR Pinty’s Series race. According to NHMS, this will be the first NASCAR Pinty’s Series race held outside of Canada.
“We knew 2017 would be the last year we’d have two [NASCAR Cup] events, so we focused on creating a new event to maintain the energy of having two great racing weekends,” said McGrath. “There’s been a lot of buzz about NASCAR hosting short track events and playing to the roots of our sport, so we’re honored to start a new weekend and give fans from across New England  a cool new experience.”
According to McGrath, the main difference between the July and September races is the access fans will have during the Full Throttle Fall Weekend. There will be a fan zone set up on the infield of the track, where there will be meet-and-greet and autograph sessions with drivers and a chance to see the car garages. 
 
Shifting gears
One of the biggest developments at the speedway is unrelated to racing.  Last year, NHMS and Live Nation received approval from the Loudon Zoning Board to host a multi-day country music festival on the speedway’s property. The festival will include three days of live music and an onsite camping area for thousands of campers featuring rides, beer gardens and other amenities.
Though the festival was originally slated to be held this summer, an extended legal process stemming from a 30-year-old contract has slowed the process. After the zoning board approved the festival, NHPR reported that a group of Loudon residents living next to the speedway filed suit based on a 1989 agreement they signed with NHMS related to sound ordinances. The residents claimed the agreement prohibited music concerts being held on the property and raised concerns over the proposed festival causing excessive loudness at late hours. 
The case reached the Merrimack County Superior Court, and in May a judge ruled in favor of the festival. According to NHPR, the court clarified that the restriction from the agreement pertains solely to the racetrack and grandstands purchased at the time and excludes property purchased after 1989, which has since been zoned for concerts and outdoor events. 
McGrath said the case has now been appealed to New Hampshire Supreme Court, and he expects a final verdict by early fall. In the meantime, he said NHMS and Live Nation are continuing to move forward with planning the festival, which is tentatively scheduled for mid-August 2019. 
“The town recognizes we’re not Johnny-come-lately when it comes to hosting big events; we’ve done it year in and year out for close to 30 years,” said McGrath. “We hope the Supreme Court upholds this decision, because we think this festival could become a marquee event at the speedway.” 





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