The Frontstretch: Bruton Smith Intent On "Shafting" New England Race Fans by Tommy Thompson -- Wednesday November 7, 2007

Go to site navigation Go to article

Bruton Smith Intent On "Shafting" New England Race Fans

Thompson In Turn 5 · Tommy Thompson · 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 anti-sale commentary by Tommy Thompson, a positive assessment by Matt Taliaferro, or a letter to Bruton Smith penned by our Sonya Grady – with her own suggested list of improvements.

Friday's announcement by O. Bruton Smith, Chairman and CEO of Speedway Motorsports, Inc. (SMI) that he had purchased New Hampshire International Speedway (NHIS) for $340 million should concern the fans of the New England area. Smith, who also revealed that as part of the change of ownership, the name of the racetrack will be changed to New Hampshire Motor Speedway, can be counted on to make drastic changes other than just the subtle name modification. The exact details of the future plans for NHMS are not completely clear, but all indications are that Smith's interests do not necessarily align with the best interests of the outstandingly loyal fans of the extreme northeast region of this country.

The charismatic Smith, viewed by some as a kind of "white knight" against the forces of the France family, who not only owns NASCAR, but controls SMI's rival track owner/management company, International Speedway Corporation (ISC), is not a man afraid to shake things up a bit to get what he wants; and in this case, what he wants is a second date for his Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Well, now Bruton can rest easy…he just got one. There is no reason for wild speculation or accusation of behind-the-scenes politics in my coming to that conclusion, as Mr. Smith has been very upfront with his desire for a second date in the Nevada desert. In March of 2006, he made his intentions and means for accomplishing his goal crystal clear to the stock car world. Speaking to reporters at that time the media-savvy NASCAR pioneer, who opened the gates to Lowe's Motor Speedway (then Charlotte Motor Speedway) in 1959, said he had standing offers out to the owners of Pocono Raceway, Dover International Speedway, and yes, New Hampshire International Speedway, to purchase their race tracks so that he could transfer a race date to Las Vegas.

Said Smith, "If Pocono or any of the others came knocking, they know that I'm here. And it would take me twenty minutes to write the check." Well, Bob Bahre, Chairman at the Loudon racing facility knocked on Smith's door, and the 80-year old Smith, as promised…answered that door with his checkbook in hand.

Unlike the ongoing game of one-upmanship between Smith and the City of Concord, NC., that I likened last week in my article Billionaire Bruton Smith Bluffs City Council Into Submission to nothing more than a well-played idle threat on Smith's part, there is no doubt he is not "playing" with the Loudon track this time. As the native North Carolinian’s history substantiates in his past dealings with North Wilkesboro Speedway, Smith will buy tracks just to move their dates…and then leave them dormant for the foreseeable future.

However, those past purchases, race date transfers, and eventual closings involved facilities where a case could be argued that they were no longer viable venues to support the modern era of NASCAR Cup racing. As the argument went, both tracks were located in over-saturated areas of the southeast and were suffering from declining fan support, as well as being in need of extensive capital improvements to bring the tracks up to today's standards. That is not the case in New Hampshire; the facility, built in 1990, though arguably needing some upgrades in amenities, is far from dilapidated or competing for ticket sells with other nearby venues. Additionally, fan support for the track is second to none. All of that makes Smith's ability to justify moving either of New Hampshire's two Nextel Cup race dates to any of his other SMI-owned tracks considerably more difficult.

Brian France, Chairman and CEO of NASCAR, in a carefully worded statement assured the racing community that there would be no changes in the NHIS schedule for 2008. But the often criticized head of the organization left the door open for future changes.

Said France, "While we don't have any details about SMI's plans for NHIS, all sanctions for 2008 have been signed and finalized. As a result, there will be no location changes to the 2008 schedule that was released last month. This is important to the fans, competitors, broadcast partners and sponsors who have already made plans for the 2008 races. Looking beyond 2008, NASCAR will continue to consider requests by any track operator, including SMI, to relocate race dates. Under NASCAR's "realignment" plan, we have worked with track owners to relocate race dates to meet the needs of our growing national fan base."

A cynic, which I admittedly am becoming more of everyday in respect NASCAR's ability to always make correct decisions, would interpret France's statement to indicate that the sanctioning body is hiding their collective heads in the sand and do not want to face this issue right now. Apparently, they are not sure they have the resolve and wherewithal to challenge Bruton Smith's impending undeserved "shafting" of the New England race fans. For they are aware that it is almost a certainty that if NASCAR does deny a transfer of a race date to Las Vegas, they will be inviting a protracted legal battle to be waged by Smith.

The proper response by NASCAR to the SMI purchase of NHIS should have been to send a clear message to Smith and the fan base in that region of the country that their demonstrative and overwhelming support of the sport is appreciated and that as long as their loyalty to NASCAR continues, that loyalty will be reciprocated. But of course, that is not what NASCAR said…just that there were no guarantees beyond next season. Just a bunch of corporate mumbo jumbo about the "…needs of our growing national fan base." It is going to be interesting to see how NASCAR, if unwilling to ultimately stand up to Smith, will explain how only one of thirty-six race dates is meeting the needs of the northeast region.

Amazingly, there is little universal solidarity on this issue among race fans nationwide. Many seem indifferent to the possibility of fellow race fans losing a race date at their home track, as they do not particularly care for the type of racing the notoriously difficult to pass 1.056 track produces. But this is about something bigger, as tracks can be improved. This is about whether fans that have lived up to their end of the bargain with NASCAR should be awarded for their devotion … or simply viewed as dispensable.

Time will tell … but if Bruton Smith is allowed to move a date from a track for no valid reason other than to satisfy his business objective, fans need to ask themselves not only how secure the track nearest to them is, but how much of their allegiance they want to commit to it. Or, for that matter …NASCAR.

The Frontstretch Newsletter, back in 2014 gives you more of the daily news, commentary, and racing features from your favorite writers you know and love. Don’t waste another minute – click here to sign up now. We’re here to make sure you stay informed … so make sure you jump on for the ride!

Today on the Frontstretch:
Swan Racing Announces Restructuring, No. 26 & No. 30 ‘Sold’ Off
Tech Talk with Tony Gibson: Taking Stock Of Danica Patrick In Year Two
Vexing Vito: Three Drivers In Need of a Role Reversal
Going By the Numbers: Top-10 NASCAR Variety Hard To Come By In…
Truckin’ Thursdays: Lessons Learned Just Two Races In
Fantasy Insider: Team Revelations For NASCAR’s Short Tracks



©2000 - 2008 Tommy Thompson and Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!

Bob Whitehead
11/07/2007 08:28 AM

Tommy, Tommy, Tommy…
I couldn’t disagree with you more. The racing at Loudon is horrible, and has been from day one. It’s a much smaller facility than the normal NASCAR track, so it’s easier for that area to sell it out. But the racing is lousy! Move it Vegas, Bruton! We’re behind ya, man!! Tommy’s just wrong on this one. Talk to the fans of The Rock and Darlington about loyalty.


Keith Yocum
11/07/2007 08:49 AM

Yep Just like the loyal 50 years N. Wilkesboro put in when they had their date stolen buy New Hampshire. They were there when Na$car needed them and the sport was treated like a joke especially from the far northeast part of the country. I was always laughed at growing up in Phila and by my coworkers mostly in New York and Boston when I went to races in the 70’s and 80’s. As for the fact that it sells out what is the big deal most tracks that don’t sell out have higher attendance anyway.

11/07/2007 08:53 AM

I agree with your, Tommy. I could understand if New Hampshire loses one of its dates, but the track doesn’t deserve to disappear from the schedule. Too many of our races are being oved to the ‘vanilla’ tracks. New Hampshire offers us some racing that actually tests the drivers abilities. At many of the tracks, the engineers are more important than the drivers.

I hope that Bruton Smith plans on improving the facilities for the fans if that is the true issue.

11/07/2007 10:04 AM

Tommy, I agree with you on this one. I think it’s pretty obvious that Bruton bought New Hampshire to move one of it’s dates to Las Vegas.
Of course Brian doesn’t want to add fule to the fire by saying anything right now, but he knows full well Bruton’s intentions. When Bruton let it be known he wanted a second date for Vegas, Brian said all he had to do was move a date from one of his existing tracks. So that is what Bruton will be doing. How can Brain stop him, when he is just doing what Brian said. (At least this will be Bruton’s arguement.) Hopefully he will leave the other date in NH. It’s not the fans fault if the racing isn’t that great. They are supporting it anyway, and deserve to have at least one race. Maybe Bruton will add some banking to the track, in hopes of improving the racing.

11/07/2007 11:32 AM

NHIS would sell out more seats if they had them. Boston is the #7 Media Market, NY (4 hours away) #1 and a lot show up here (with those damn Yankees caps). Montreal is Canada’s #2 and a lot of them come to NHIS hence the International in the name. Big tracks look good on TV but suck to sit at. Want a second date for Las Vegas? Take one from TX. But Las Vegas, so close to LA, is just like the CA tracks a “casual fan” Mecca. Casual fans are like casual friends, nice, but not to be relied on. If NA$CAR wants to truly grow a sport that lasts they need to keep 2 races in each strategic location that also has a strong fan base. Motor racing has just as long a history in New England, if not longer, than the south. Starting from as far back as America’s first motorcycle in 1901 all the way to today. NH is where the Race to the White House starts so why not the Chase? If the kick off does not seem big enough for NASCAR the “trouble is not in the Stars”. The place my friends loving refer to as the “Murder Mile” deserves 2 races. There are few tracks anywhere else in the Country this close to so many people. Hell they sold out the same Sunday the Sox played the Yankees at Fenway and the Pats played the Chargers at Foxboro. Flush out your head gear Matt it is getting too full.

11/07/2007 11:49 AM

move it or rip it up and redo it.the racing sticks there and always it serves them right for getting N.wilkesboros date.

11/07/2007 02:05 PM

First off, New Hampshire fans got a date at the expense of Rockingham’s disappearance all together, so I have little sympathy for them should they lose a date to Vegas, or any other track.

Second, early in the article, it’s stated that Bruton Smith is “…viewed by some as a kind of “white knight” against the forces of the France family… “, and then at the end of the article, it’s also stated that “if Bruton Smith is allowed to move a date from a track for no valid reason other than to satisfy his business objective, fans need to ask themselves how much of their allegiance they want to commit to NASCAR.”
Who’s the villain here, Bruton or NASCAR?
Neither. If there is a “villain”, it’s economics.
How can NASCAR be painted as the villain if Bruton choses to move a date. This is the man who is willing to bulldoze Charlotte on principal. If he buys Loudon to secure an extra date for Vegas and NASCAR denies him that date, instead opting for Kentucky or some other venue, the lawsuits ensuing will dwarf those we’ve seen before at Texas and elsewhere. NASCAR has become successful because it realizes moreso than most major sports that it IS a business. If it were a smart business move to gaurantee 2 dates at Loudon, ISC ( ie; NASCAR ) would have outbid Bruton for ownership of the NH track. How can Bruton be the “Villain”?
If Bruton buys Loudon, it’s his to do as he choses with regardless of our liking. If Loudon losing a date irks you so much, you can “vote” with your wallet by boycotting attendance and TV viewership of SMI tracks, but don’t think he’s stupid for trying to improve his company.
Thousands gainfully employed at SMI are glad to have his vision in control of their destiny.

Lastly, if Bruton intends on keeping two dates in NH, I bet he’ll follow the example of Miami and do some serious reworking of the track.

11/07/2007 02:09 PM

Being in the Northeast I can say that having a track up here like NHIS is a good thing. The downside having been there as well as watching it on tv is that the racing is dull..its only now perhaps that another groove is opening up on it. I agree with the poster that said that the last thing we need is more vanilla 1.5 milers but Loudon could be made a little more exciting.

11/07/2007 02:45 PM

The thought that New Hampshire would sell more seats if the had them is false they sold out 2 days before the race in September so there is not much more demand at this time and Rockingham lost its dates almost 10 years after New Hampshire opened. Bob Bahre earned the 1st date by building the speedway but stole the 2nd from N Wilkesboro. So you will most likley keep what you earned and lose what you stole.

11/07/2007 03:17 PM

First off, I agree you you completly Tommy. NHIS and New England is crucial to NASCAR, the teams and their sponsors.
There are 18 million people living within 200 miles and the track, and there is no other NASCAR track within that area. Greater Boston is the 7th largest market, but the area is so big it’s not measured as Greater Boston anymore. It is now the Boston CSA which includes Boston and Worcester MA, Providence RI and Southern NH (including Loudon). in that area there are almost 8 million people and is the 5th largest area. The potential for the speedway is endless. Some renovations,and Bruton Smith’s promotional and marketing skills can make Loudon one of, if not the most profitable track in his arsenal. And all this is not including the fact the track is only 4 short hours to New York City and Montreal. Why does NASCAR start the chase at Loudon. Easy access to all the NY media. We all know there will never be a track in NYC, this is the next best thing. To the person who said NH stole a date from Rockingham, look up your facts. Bob Bahre and Bruton Smith bought North Wilkesboro, which anyone would tell you was a rundown dump with absolutly no upside. To the person who said there are no race fans in New England? There have been NASCAR fans and NASCAR racing in New England since it was founded in 1948. NASCAR has had a bigger presence in New England than any other area of the country other than the Southeast. Ever hear of the NASCAR Modified tour? If the SE is such a hotbed of NASCAR racing then please tell me why there are empty seats at Lowes, Atlanta? Please tell me why Rockingham couldn’t sell half their seats? How come such a small track like Martinsville is advertising seats available 2 weeks before the race? It’s not the 60’s and 70’s anymore.

Larry Burton
11/07/2007 07:21 PM

The previous owner of NHIS says he don’t believe Bruton will move a date. Bruton really must have told some big ones to convince him of that! In 2009, NHIS will have one date and Las Vegas will have two! Anybody want to take bets on that?

Conner Peterson
11/07/2007 07:45 PM

I hope the race is moved to Vegas so my dad can see it from jail.

11/07/2007 08:44 PM

If Bruton was smart he’d redesign it so it was more like would be a sell-out everytime which I don’t think Las Vegas would do.

11/08/2007 10:47 AM

whoa !! on the bruton nay saying . to have races you have to have good purses . guess who pays the best ??? remember the tracks pay not nascar.
i know but but but !!! hey bruton maybe the only person that can save nascar racing from its current screwed up management .want proof of a problem —who has more money jack roush or rick hendrick —remember rousch racing is only a tiny sliver of jacks worth and he sold part of his team ,why ? not because he’s dumb you can’t bet on that. could jack, ray everham ,robt yates, tereasa earnhart,
and others all be struck
by the same thought .

hurray bruton and humpy
go go go !!!! take our sport away from the tv fools.

Contact Tommy Thompson