Count me as a longtime fan of O. Bruton Smith and his Speedway Motorsports Inc. family of racetracks that grew by one last weekend with the announcement that he had purchased New Hampshire International Speedway.
The New Hampshire track gives Smith and SMI seven tracks which will host Sprint (Nextel) Cup races next season.
Bob and Gary Bahre’s New Hampshire track has long been rumored as the next track to go on the market, and over the years Smith has made no secret that he was looking for anther racetrack to buy. The Bahres and Smith are no strangers to each other as they went together and bought the track at North Wilkesboro and split the two Cup dates the track had.
New Hampshire’s location makes it an oddity on the Cup schedule, as it is definitely located out of the mainstream racing area of the country, one hour north of Boston. While its northern location makes it somewhat of the odd man out on the schedule, it can boast of being within 200 miles of more than 18 million people which makes it the seventh-largest metropolitan market in the country.
The speedway was opened in 1990 and has grown over the years until it is now the largest sports facility in the New England area. Each year it hosts two Cup races as well as both Busch and Craftsman Truck Series events. It is one of the few tracks on the schedule that can boast of having a streak of 26 consecutive sellouts of its Cup races.
While New Hampshire doesn’t need a makeover as Bristol Motor Speedway did when it was purchased by Smith in the ’90s, you can’t help but wonder what the future will hold for the track which will have its name changed to New Hampshire Motor Speedway after the first of the year. Smith has been hunting for a way to find a second date for his Las Vegas track, but apparently any move of a race date will not take place for at least one year.
NASCAR released a statement following the sale using the transaction as a barometer for the state of the sport. While attendance and TV viewing have slipped this season, the sanctioning body said the sale of the speedway for a reported $340 million in cash is a sign the sport continues to thrive.
The statement also went on to say that the 2008 schedule is already set and that any request by a track operator to relocate a race date will not be considered until after next season. According to NASCAR’s long-term plan that it calls its “realignment plan,” a track owner’s desire to relocate a race date must meet the needs of the sport’s growing national fan base.
New Hampshire’s dates on next season’s schedule fall on June 29 and Sept. 14, which is the first race of the 10-race Chase that eventually crowns the sport’s champion. Let’s face it, New Hampshire can’t give the Chase the kind of kickoff that Smith’s Vegas track could. Anytime there is a race at one of Smith’s tracks, he tries to make it like the Super Bowl and World Series all rolled into one, so think of what he could do to draw attention to the start of the Chase.
It would be a win-win for everyone involved. Smith would get his second Vegas date and NASCAR wouldn’t have to worry about drawing attention to its first Chase event. Smith and his staff know how to promote a race and this would give them the national stage that would definitely bring out the best in them. There might not be enough planes in our Air Force to provide the kind of flyover that Bruton would want.
Chase notes: History repeated itself at Texas when Jimmie Johnson left the Lone Star State as the new leader in the Chase. He took the lead for good last season at Texas and did the same on Sunday with his ninth win of the season. Johnson now owns a 30-point lead over Gordon with two races left. Johnson or Gordon has never won at Phoenix, but both have had some success as Johnson has a couple of runner-up finishes including last November and Gordon has a trio of third-place finishes.
Race Preview – Event: Checker Auto Parts 500. Track: Phoenix International Raceway (1-mile oval, 1&2 banked 11 degrees, 3&4 banked 9 degrees). Date: Nov. 11, 3 p.m. TV: NBC. Radio: MRN. Defending champion: Kevin Harvick.