LOUDON, N.H. — With the way the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series is structured these days, there will always be an inevitable loser when a track gains a new date.
There simply isn’t any more room to add races.
This week, while the people of Las Vegas celebrate, it is New England and Canada that are mourning the loss of their September weekend.
Their track — which only hosted its first race in 1993 and only gained its second Cup date for the 1997 season — now will scale back to one race a season, the July weekend that it has held since the track’s construction.
The irony of this date realignment is that New Hampshire Motor Speedway now has become the victim of the very same forces which brought it its second Cup weekend to begin with.
The story of New Hampshire’s second cup date begins on Jan. 1, 1996, when then-co-owner of North Wilkesboro Speedway Mike Staley sold his stake in the track to Bob Bahre, who owned New Hampshire Motor Speedway at the time.
With North Wilkesboro now in the hands of Bahre and Bruton Smith, the track’s two Cup dates were split up for 1997 — the former became what is now the spring date at Texas Motor Speedway, and the fall date became the second race at New Hampshire.
At the time, Bahre and Smith cited the aging facilities, geographical location, and diminishing crowds as the reasons why North Wilkesboro was dropped from the calendar. But there was also an underlying and more primary reason for the date swaps: Bahre and Smith both knew they could make more money from races at New Hampshire and Texas than they could at North Wilkesboro.
Fast forward 20 years, and many of the same forces that brought down North Wilkesboro have now turned against NHMS.
When looked at side-by-side with Las Vegas, the comparison bears an eerie resemblance to ones made between North Wilkesboro and New Hampshire back then. Las Vegas received a massive renovation in advance of the 2007 season, with a complete reconfiguration and repave of the facility and a whole host of new facilities for fans and the NASCAR workforce added in the infield. New Hampshire has received no major upgrades on a similar level since it opened in 1990.
Crowds have visibly diminished at NHMS in the past few seasons, while Las Vegas has consistently been one of the best-attended races since the work was completed on the track in 2007. Furthermore, LVMS’ capacity (116,000) is larger than NHMS’ (88,000). Finally, the western market has been one that Speedway Motorsports Incorporated has tried to tap into with extra races for years now because of the untapped potential that they see. Their belief in the New England and Canada markets (which New Hampshire primarily serves) is nowhere near as strong.
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