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 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 1-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 moxie 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’s 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 fanbase as a whole.