No matter how jaded you might be with NASCAR, you’re still a race fan. How can I tell? You’re reading this article. Even though you have accepted, with ill grace, that the cars don’t resemble stock anything, your driver retired many years ago, and more races are won these days by a margin that can be compared to the English Channel, you still watch every week. And more likely than not, you still treasure your treks out to the local track.
Like an old friend, the stands have a few wrinkles in them, the parking lot may be a mud bog on its off weekends, and the bathroom facilities leave a lot to be desired. But these aren’t the reasons you put your $20 down. It has more to do with the atmosphere of anticipation, the smell of unburnt fuel, greasy burgers and the noise of the engines. The combination is addicting and once you’re bitten by the live racing bug, nothing can ever replace it.
Just a couple years ago, we parked our RV in the vast camping lots at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and complained about the same things we always had – small spaces, no showers, chronic floods/rivers in the lots and limited pedestrian access in and out of the actual track. Still, we came and had every intention of returning the following year for more of the same.
Why, you might ask? For the very reasons I listed above. It’s my twice-a-year chance to wallow in racing in all its glorious excess. I may have wished for some esthetic improvements for my entrance fee, but really the opportunity to watch all my heroes up close and personal outweighed any lingering discomfort.
Thus, when Bob Bahre sold off his track to Speedway Motorsports, Inc., alarm bells went off in my head. Good grief! What would happen to my slightly aged, less than perfect NASCAR fix? What glitzy tricks would the owners of tracks like Lowe’s and Bristol try in an attempt to woo the curmudgeonly New England race fans? I shuddered to think.
It turns out, the new owners have done something completely unexpected… they listened.
On Sunday, when we pulled into the camping lot at the track, our jaws dropped. Frontend loaders, heavy-duty grading equipment, water trucks and steam rollers scurried over the acres flattening the inconsistent hills we have parked on in the past. It just didn’t seem to be real. We could also see attempts to improve drainage. Was this for real?
NHMS put out a press release this past week celebrating a new mascot (because every SMI track needs something cute and furry for the kids) and improvements to the infield. Curious about other changes closer to the competition, after we dropped the trailer, we headed over to the track.
Holy frijoles! The brook that used to cut a swath through the infield RV lot is gone! It is now hidden beneath new acreage, shiny new fencing and a victory lane that looks more like a photo-op than aging scaffolding. A new catchfence system glittered in the dull sunlight, its 21-ft. height reaching for the sky. The helipad was relocated into turn 3 and a vast RV lot housed a few random rigs waiting for the upcoming festivities. Was this truly my New Hampshire? I looked up the hill past turn 2. The dilapidated wooden grandstand that has overseen the road course for eons vanished! However, the aging, vacant yellow garages insisted that I had not traveled to OZ. Enough of the tired facilities remain to give some comfort to this shell-shocked visitor.
And yet, as I wandered about, I realized something. Perhaps these changes to the facility perked my interest, but it is the echoing, silver stands that drew my final thoughts.
In but a few more days, an endless array of color will fill this oval. As one of the many-hued fans, I will tread the improved walkways, appreciate the lighting under the stands, listen to the now audible speaker system and smile at the bright new banners that adorn the track. But one thing has not changed….
The ribbon of asphalt that winds it way around New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
On this 43 metal gladiators will meet in battle, and for about three hours, I could be sitting on a rotting, wooden, backless grandstand while the sun sets over a pitch-black parking lot, and still have the time of my life. I’m a race fan and feeling the rumble of a carbureted, unmuffled engine wash through my body is the only thing that I look forward to all year long.
Thank goodness the wait is almost over!