The Frontstretch: SMI Acquisition Of New Hampshire Serves to Benefit Sport, Fans by Matt Taliaferro -- Wednesday November 7, 2007

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SMI Acquisition Of New Hampshire Serves to Benefit Sport, Fans

Matt Taliaferro · Wednesday November 7, 2007


Editor’s Note: On one of the most controversial topics of the year, Frontstretch has the New Hampshire sale covered: check out this pro-sale commentary by Matt Taliaferro, a negative assessment by Tommy Thompson, or a letter to Bruton Smith penned by our Sonya Grady – with her own suggested list of improvements.

Chalk another one up for Bruton Smith.

And this time, chalk one up for the rest of us, too.

Smith, the CEO of Speedway Motorsports, Inc. and a France family bane, has expanded his empire to include the purchase of New Hampshire International Speedway. NHIS, currently owned and operated by Bob Bahre, was one of the last independently owned tracks — along with Dover International Speedway, Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Pocono Raceway — that hosted Nextel Cup events.

Not anymore. Now, Smith's SMI tracks at Atlanta, Bristol, Charlotte, Las Vegas, Texas, Sears Point, and now New Hampshire will account for nearly half of the races on the 2008 Cup schedule, with newly re-christened New Hampshire Motor Speedway playing host to NASCAR's first Chase event. But that won’t be the case for long – and that's where the good news for the rest of us comes in.

Smith has been lobbying for a second date at the Las Vegas facility for years, and with good reason. The venue fills up without fail, offers plenty to keep fans busy away from the track, affords ample hotel rooms (even at the last minute), and the renovations made to the facility within the last year — variable banking and a new infield/media center/garage area – make the place as state-of-the-art as any track on the circuit.

Furthermore, what better place to kick off NASCAR's annual playoff stretch than in the glam and glitz of Las Vegas? Don't get me wrong here; I'm not an advocate of another 1.5-mile speedway elbowing a date out of a unique one-mile paperclip, but I know change is just part of growth … and growth can be good. Seriously, whoever thought New Hampshire was the optimal site for a keynote race that should be one of the biggies? The joint is flat, having not taken the much-needed step of installing variable banking; it’s got one — and only one — racing groove which makes it difficult (if not impossible) for the Car of Tomorrow to pass; it has yet to discover that lights, as any 3/8-mile short track in the rural parts of our country will tell you, are a good thing; and lastly, and with no offense to the fine residents of Loudon, N.H. – it's in Loudon, N.H. That's OK for race No. 17; not OK for race No. 26.

Now before the hate mail comes flowing in, let me say I'm from a small but proud town myself. I love it there and still do. Heck, I'd love to move back one day. But the first playoff race should serve as a spectacle, and rural New England isn't the first locale to come to mind when throwing around the word, ‘spectacle.’ Bruton Smith, though, specializes in it. The 80-year-old promotions wizard is one part P.T. Barnum and one part Donald Trump with a dash — make that a heaping teaspoon — of moxy and know-how. Actually, it's my belief that he has a better understanding of what's best for NASCAR than the current leadership group.

Smith and all other principles involved may downplay the odds of moving New Hampshire's second date to Las Vegas — and that is at least partially true for the time being, as the 2008 schedule has been set. But Smith made this deal with a specific plan in mind, and as his past dealings have proved, that includes moving at least one of the track's dates to an existing facility that will bring more exposure and dollars not only to Speedway Motorsports, but to NASCAR in general.

Let's hope that Las Vegas' new surface weathers nicely and makes for some exciting racing in the next year. But for now, Bob Bahre and his New Hampshire Motor Speedway have simply been the beneficiary of NASCAR's lack of foresight by not realigning the schedule when the Chase was formulated five years ago. Bruton Smith, his new speedway, and the two extra dates he inherits now serve to gain not only his company, but the sport and its fan base as a whole.

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Today on the Frontstretch:
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True Fan
11/07/2007 01:57 PM

Chris2 , If your out there I have a inquiry for you. Do you think that the France’s along with the Bruton Smith orginization could give N.A.S.C.A.R. the makeover that it needs to be a great sport again? And if so what should they do along with G.M. ?

True Fan
11/07/2007 02:03 PM

(correction to the above post) should they do it along with the nascar G.M. ?

11/07/2007 03:38 PM

The “playoff” hasn’t lived up to the billing anyhow. Moving the first race to Vegas won’t help. If you believe Bruton will do whats best for the sport, you’re sadly mistaken. Just like any business, whats best to line my pockets. If a few little people are hurt along the way, no biggie.

11/07/2007 04:15 PM

True Fan, That’s a good question and probably hard to pinpoint a good answer but I’ll give it a shot. As far as the France’s are concerned they first need to recognize that the sport needs a makeover to be able to react. Judging from what has taken place over the last few years in the way of desicions from their camp I don’t hold much hope but I’m always optimistic. The Frances’ actually have a stake in many of the tracks that make up the NASCAR circuits,(International Speedway Inc. I think) and Bruton Smith and Humpy Wheeler, who own other tracks on the circuit, (Speedway Motorsports is it?). Humpy has been a man that has known how to appeal to the fan so that is always a plus. I think to make NASCAR better NASCAR needs to bring back racing front and center. I know that sounds odd as racing is_technically the sport that they are part of but in recent years racing has taken a back seat to marketing. Go try and buy something without the “Official so-and-so of NASCAR”. There is_nothing wrong with making a profit and after all, why start a business if your goal is not to worry about the bottom line. The issue is when you lose sight of your product you run a good chance of your company running into trouble. I believe this is what the main issue NASCAR faces today. They need to worry less about everything around the races and worry more about the races themselves. (If I’m incorrect about who owns what tracks please someone jump in and straighten me out..thanks).

True Fan
11/07/2007 04:29 PM

Chris2 , The point you made about the product being top priority stood out and I myself believe that the drivers are the main ingredient,that being stated what kind of driver makes for a complete team?

11/07/2007 06:54 PM

This is where we differ True Fan, While I believe that the driver is important he is part of the equation that in the end should equal good racing. It seems to me that the drivers role has shifted over the the past decade from being 100% driver to part driver/part salesman/part NASCAR yes-man. With sponsors playing such a huge role nowadays, calling the shots for the teams you could say in some cases you can see why drivers are choosen in part for their marketability. Sponsors have always been part of NASCAR but they’ve never played quite the role they do today. Sad to say if they were like this years ago there would be quite a few drivers we would’ve never heard of as they wouldn’t have fit the mold the sponsor was looking for. This is part of my takes a backseat to selling stuff. NASCAR, more importantly the sponsors, are so intent on looking for the next hot looking driver that there racing record is secondary. It shouldn’t be that way but it is..sorry to get off the topic but in answer to your question a great driver is one that can communicate with his team exactly what is happening with that car and can translate it in such a way that the team can make the changes necessary. In order to do this though the driver needs to understand the workings of each part on that car..and that is something I fear is being lost as time goes on with drivers. Look at drivers such as Mark Martin, Geoff Bodine, Rusty Wallace, Dick Trickle..those guys could strip the car and rebuild it. If you ask me this is what is seperating the decent drivers from the real good drivers nowadays.

True Fan
11/07/2007 07:05 PM

After that indepth assesment I wil re-think my approach in selecting the teams that I pull for in the future. Thanks for the insight and valuable perspective youv’e lent me Chris2!

11/07/2007 07:19 PM

A good example for you how times have changed..Dick Trickle was rookie of the year at age 48, The year was 1989. He ended his Cup career at age 61 in 2002..would this happen in what we now know to be the Cup series? Disregarding his age when he left the series try and imagine the series now with a driver entering the Cup series at the age of 48..he wouldn’t be able to attract a sponsor…as said before, then more emphasis was placed on the drivers ability whereas now its more on marketability.


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