NHMS Race  Is Vegas-Bound

  • Kyle Busch keeps the lead on a restart over Erik Jones during the NASCAR Xfinity auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Saturday, July 16, 2016, in Loudon, N.H. Busch won the race. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

  • Dartmouth's Brian McLaughlin competes in men's giant slalom at the NCAA Skiing Championships on Wednesday in Franconia, N.H. (Gil Talbot photograph)

Concord Monitor
Published: 3/8/2017 11:54:04 PM
Modified: 3/8/2017 11:54:13 PM

Concord — For the past decade or so, rumors had surfaced that New Hampshire Motor Speedway would lose one of the crown jewels on its racing schedule.

And Wednesday afternoon, that rumor turned into fact: Las Vegas Motor Speedway is adding a top-tier NASCAR race, part of the Monster Energy Cup Series, in September 2018, at the expense of the 1.058-mile oval in Loudon, N.H.

Official word came at a news conference in Las Vegas, where next year the speedway will host its traditional March race before adding the fall event. NHMS will keep its July race in 2018, but will not have a pair of big-league races for the first time since 1996.

Vegas officials were thrilled with the news and the potential boost another race could mean for their already famous tourism industry.

“Las Vegas is the ideal destination for a second NASCAR Cup race, and this addition will delight thousands of fans,” Lawrence Weekly, chairman of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, said in a news release.

Reaction here was muted, as the speedway did not return a phone call, choosing to announce via email that it would host a news conference at 10 a.m. today. General Manager and Executive Vice President Dave McGrath will address the media at that time.

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu put a positive spin on the loss, saying in a prepared statement, “We look forward to welcoming race fans to Loudon in July and partnering with NH Motor Speedway to identify new events that could call New Hampshire home.”

The speedway has long been home to all kinds of racing, from high-powered motorcycles on its 1.6-mile serpentine road course back when the facility was owned by Don Brymer; to big-name auto racing after Bob Bahre came down from Maine and Oxford Plains Speedway and sunk millions to turn the track into New England’s lone superspeedway, at the time called New Hampshire International Speedway.

Back then, during the 1990s, the speedway hosted cigar-shaped open-wheeled racing, made famous by drivers such as A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti, as well as stock cars and trucks.

New Hampshire International Speedway began staging one Cup race per season in 1993, when the tour was known as the Winston Cup Series. In those days, Bahre fought the town on a seemingly annual basis to increase seating, which now stands at 100,000 — about double what it had once been. Tickets went quickly as the sport’s biggest stars, including the late Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon, traveled each summer to Loudon.

Bahre sold the speedway before the 2008 season for $340 million to Bruton Smith, who changed the name to New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

As it turns out, Smith is the head of Speedway Motorsports Inc., the company that lobbied to bring the New Hampshire race to Las Vegas. SMI owns both tracks, plus seven others.

Attendance and TV ratings, here and nationwide, have been slipping in recent years, and only time will tell if a more vibrant market exists in Vegas.

Las Vegas Motor Speedway is located 16 miles northeast of the Strip and has hosted a NASCAR Cup Series race each spring since 1998.

Here, after the speedway sold out each summer for its two events in July and September, attendance began to fall, and NHMS hasn’t sold out an event over the past few years.

Along with the Cup race, Las Vegas Motor Speedway also landed a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event from the Loudon stable of races, plus another race from Kentucky Speedway, creating a second triple-header weekend in Vegas. The September 2018 race weekend was not announced.

“Fans and tourism officials in New Hampshire and Kentucky should know that we are still very committed to creating motorsports entertainment in those regions,” said Marcus Smith, Bruton’s son and SMI’s president and chief operating officer.

“We will make sure that the July NASCAR race weekends that we will continue to host in New Hampshire and Kentucky are bigger and better than ever before for our fans, sponsors and stakeholders.”

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