S.D. Grady · Tuesday March 9, 2010
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It was not an unusual conversation between my husband and I. He was scanning NASCAR headlines, and I was watching the race.
“They wanna build a casino at New Hampshire.”
That, right there, was my gut reaction. I didn’t have time to think and measure my words, as this column permits. Just somewhere deep down, I knew I didn’t want one of those massive neon and masonry structures looming over New England’s contribution to NASCAR.
I’ve had a couple days to ponder this announcement, and I still don’t want it to happen. But I doubt mine are reasons the profitable Speedway Motorsports, Inc. empire will take into consideration should the New Hampshire legislature expand the legalization of gambling in the Granite State. Nonetheless, this new development is my opportunity to let Jerry Gappens et al. know what one, and most likely many, of its race fans thinks about casinos attached to racetracks.
It’s tacky. As in, tourist trap tacky.
I’ve driven across a good section of our country in search of NASCAR tracks, and I’ve decided they tend to fall into two simple geographic categories:
1.) Just on the outskirts of a city. These tend to be fancy facilities that blend in well with their surroundings. Office buildings, condos, and yes, casinos sprout off the side of the actual race track. Think Vegas, Atlanta, Charlotte, and even Daytona.
2.) Lost in the outback of America. Ah, these are the gems. The ones I want to spend a week at. You arrive via local county roads, not the high-speed Interstates. Trees obscure your ultimate destination until you’re just about there. I count New Hampshire as one of these locations, along with Pocono, Watkins Glen, and even in an odd way, with its “small town” approach, Darlington.
With that said, I can appreciate the different approaches toward making a racetrack capable of paying the taxes. When you arrive months before a Cup event to take a tour of an empty track, the wind whistling through the stands is more than a little eerie. Suddenly, you understand just how hard it might be to keep these ovals running when you are really open for big business two weeks a year (if you’re one of the lucky ones.)
There’s also a wonder you feel when you creep along the quiet roads, passing a vegetable stand and a house with windmills for sale in the front yard on your way to the track. These are reminders that our carefully engineered Sunday entertainment was not born in an office park. Instead, NASCAR came to life in backyards, over dirt roads and even distant beaches. Those first competitors in our sport never dreamed they would be able to purchase $20 million yachts when those $200 purses were just barely enough for them to scrape by.
I understand that should SMI endeavor to attach yet another temple of greed to NHMS, it would manage to raise its revenues. Good for the company! But it would also alter the landscape of Loudon, the small town it inhabits. Instead of a couple lights that control traffic outside a popular bar and grocery store, Rte. 106 between I-395 and Rte. 140 would begin to sprout more cheap hotels, strip malls, and all the incessant encroachments of expansion in rural America. It would become… ordinary.
I don’t know about the local inhabitants. Honestly in these times, the promise of a full-service casino partnered with a fancy hotel and all the jobs that it would generate might be enough to entice the New Hampshire residents to hop on the bandwagon of “improvement.” But I hope not.
As a yearly NHMS attendee, I look forward to our annual road trip as we haul the RV up to the track. It’s beautiful country. We know there will never be a traffic jam (this is a week before race day) and we know where to stop to find the true local deals. There is time and space to appreciate a bit of the world we don’t normally live in… and to top it off, a race track appears in the middle of it.
Would my visit be enhanced by a casino? Oh, I might stop by and drop $10 in quarters in a slot machine. That would be all. But would I be able to ignore the new addition? Not by a long shot.
Instead, its glass and glitter would hover over the treetops, an ever-present reminder of not where our sport came from, but its intended destination. What would that be? I think you know the answer…
So, I beg of you, Mr. Jerry Gappens, please don’t do this. You don’t need the extra income… and New Hampshire Motor Speedway doesn’t need the casino.
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