Last Friday, Bruton Smith issued a statement warning the small town of Loudon, N.H. that if they didn’t lower their price for supplying security for the Sprint Cup events at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Speedway Motorsports Inc. would seriously consider moving one of the two race dates to another venue. Say, Kentucky.
So, the man in the suit is prepared to play hardball with the yokels, eh? Well, be careful Mr. Smith, because I don’t think the Town Selectmen will be the only ones that come out of the ring with egg on their face. This is not the same story as Concord, N.C. refusing to grant a permit to build a new track. This time we’ve got the only game in town telling the tiny ants how it’s gonna be. That’s never a nice way of doing business. But then again, there is the police chief who is calling all the shots and calling the big man’s bluff — so that’s good entertainment.
What the real problem here is that I don’t think anybody is putting the real issues on the table.
From time before when, the second date at NHMS has been tied to the defunct North Wilkesboro Speedway. Bob Bahre purchased 50% of the dying track in order to obtain the precious date for New Hampshire. The other 50% went to Mr. Smith, and he bestowed the other North Wilkesboro date upon his newly christened Texas Motor Speedway.
Down south, another new track appeared, Kentucky Speedway, and its owner longed for a Sprint Cup race. Jerry Carroll tried everything to lure NASCAR’s biggest circuit to his track, even suing the sanctioning body. Nothing worked. Years went by, and suddenly SMI appeared at the doors of both New Hampshire and Kentucky. It seemed SMI had grand ideas for these venues.
From the moment that the ink dried on the purchase and sales agreements for both of these tracks, the question has been asked time and again, “Are you going to take a race from New Hampshire and give it to Kentucky?”
The reply has always been — I heard the words slip past NHMS General Manager Jerry Gappen’s lips at a fan one-on-one last September — “We have no plans to do so now.” Yes, there was always a caveat attached to the statement.
Those of us who call NHMS our NASCAR home sighed in relief, but walked away with a sense of fatalism. New Hampshire just isn’t a Talladega or a Bristol. You can’t buy a ticket with the guarantee that you’ll see lots of action each time. It’s a racer’s track, not one that puts the best show on for the folks or the TV cameras.
So, when I read the headlines on Friday, my immediate reaction to Smith’s rather belligerent statement was that SMI finally found a way to take that race away from New Hampshire and have somebody else to put the blame on when they do.
OK, well then, what about the people sitting across the table with their arms crossed and refusing to budge from their perch? Why would they allow this cost of security issue get to the point where the track is threatening to pack up and go someplace else?
On face value — for both the SMI and Town of Loudon sides — it’s a simple thing called money. There just doesn’t seem to be enough to spread around these days.
The security detail for the week is being billed by the town at $170,000. This would pay for 80 full-time police officers from the entire state to direct traffic on Rte. 106 leading to the track, to patrol the campgrounds where approximately 5,000 RVs appear for the week, and general security inside the track on racedays. This does not include the track security that is responsible for checking credentials at every gate, door and elevator on the premises.
SMI is confident they could run outside police details for $75,000. The reduction would require that the track hire a private security firm to patrol the camping areas.
This is where the Police Chief and the Selectmen have dug their heels in.
Police Chief Robert Fiske has stated at town meetings with Gappens that the public’s safety cannot be guaranteed with such a setup. He says without the additional paid officer details, there would not be sufficient police to respond to incidents in case of a serious situation.
He has a point. Loudon’s population is about 4,400. Their police department is staffed by 16 officers, including the chief. If 20,000 campers are in residence at the track — who are there to have a really good time — there should be more officers available than what the town can provide. I’ve been at the track where things get out of hand – RVs set on fire, propane tanks placed in bonfires – besides the usual drunk and disorderly.
Gappens, the Town Selectmen and the Police Chief have all approached the Governor’s Office regarding possible assistance from the state. The state has repeatedly refused to assist in paying for these track details.
At which point we all look back at that negotiation table and wonder how this is going to work out?
$95,000 is a huge hunk of change. It’s a sixth of what NHMS pays the Town of Loudon in property taxes each year. However, the entire tax income for this small village is only $5.2 million. I can see where the town officials are just staring bug-eyed at Gappens wondering where he thinks they’re going to pull this cash out of.
Until you realize that the Police Chief is the one who sets up the 80-man detail and schedules. He personally earns $50/hr. for every hour he says he works on the race weeks. His time slips in the past have logged 19- and 20-hour days, totaling nearly 100 hours in five days. So, the man who insists that he cannot do without 80 officers earns nearly $5,000 in a weekend each time the circus comes to town. Pretty sweet deal, there. It makes you wonder what else is happening in that office.
Well, what about the track? Is that extra $95,000 a bank breaker? I don’t think so. Not when Mr. Bruton Smith received a $1.1 million bonus for the 2009 fiscal year.
What we have here, folks, is a failure to communicate.
Smith is just begging Loudon for a reason to take his money and run. The town officials are clinging to the hope that they can keep the cushy security details and continue to pad the chief’s pockets.
Both sides are being knuckleheads.
It’s time to man-up guys. Gappens and company must realize that Loudon does not have the infrastructure available to back up their men in blue when things go wrong like the other metropolitan areas that SMI operates in. When the track has a larger operating budget than the town, you might want to consider helping the locals out.
The Town Selectmen have to seriously take a look at how this appears to your average bystander, remove some power from Chief Fiske’s grasp and go back to the budget committee. If you want the largest sporting event in New England in your back yard, you’ve got to be ready to shoulder some of the burden.
The answer is somewhere in the middle. I just hope it isn’t found in Kentucky.
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