Kentucky Speedway Chairman Jerry Carroll met with New Hampshire International Speedway owner Bob Bahre Sunday, Carroll’s latest attempt to finagle a NASCAR Nextel Cup Series race for his track, by hook or by crook.
"We love this sport, (and) we've been trying to do whatever it takes (to get a race),” said Carroll, making what may have been the understatement of the century.
For those just emerging from a drug-induced coma, Carroll and his Kentucky cohorts are presently knee-deep in a federal anti-trust lawsuit against NASCAR and International Speedway Corporation, alleging that they have illegally conspired to deprive the track of a Nextel Cup Series race. NASCAR and ISC deny the charges, saying they informed Carroll that he was not a part of their plan, long before a single shovelful of dirt was turned in Sparta, Kentucky.
That doesn’t matter to Carroll, however, a man who admittedly finds something he likes, then goes and gets it.
"If there's a demand for something, you create a market," he said Sunday. "We know we have the demand. We knew the day we built it."
Carroll’s presence at NHIS inspired a groundswell of speculation that Bahre may sell his track to the Kentucky consortium, a move guaranteed to cost NHIS at least one of its annual Cup dates, if not both.
I’m here to tell you it’ll never happen.
I have chronicled Bob Bahre’s promotional career for the better part of 30 years, beginning with his days at the helm of Maine’s Oxford Plains Speedway, continuing through his purchase of the old Bryar Motorsports Park in 1989, and the construction of NHIS the following year. In that 30-year span, “Papa Bahre” and I have not seen eye-to-eye on every issue. But through it all, I never questioned Bahre’s commitment to his racers, New England race fans, or the France Family. It is that loyalty that will prevent Jerry Carroll from getting his hands on NHIS.
At 81 years of age, Bahre knows his time at the helm is limited, and has begun the search for an eventual new owner. “My son Gary has no desire to run this place by himself,” said Bahre recently. “If I die tomorrow, he’ll sell it before the funeral.”
A quartet of potential buyers has stepped forward; Carroll’s Kentucky Speedway group, International Speedway Corporation, Bruton Smith’s Speedway Motorsports, Inc. and a surprising new kid on the promotional block; Roush-Fenway Racing.
SMI is believed to be a longshot. While Bahre and Smith have recently called a truce in the decade-long squabble that followed their nasty battle over the remains of North Wilkesboro Speedway – a tussle that resulted in NHIS’ second Cup date in 1997 -- it is believed unlikely that “Papa Bahre” will sell the track to his longtime rival.
Carroll’s chances are slimmer still. Bahre still harbors resentment toward longtime Kentucky Speedway spokesmen Darrell Waltrip, over comments the former Winston Cup champion made about NHIS in the aftermath of the tragic 2000 deaths of Adam Petty and Kenny Irwin. “Something's... terribly wrong (with NHIS)," said Waltrip at the time. I won't say we shouldn't race there anymore, but NASCAR better find some answers before we go back."
In May of this year, Bahre made it clear that those old wounds have not healed, telling the Boston Globe, “(Waltrip) was just trying to get a Cup date for Kentucky. I told Jerry Carroll…I couldn't deal with him because I couldn't stand Darrell Waltrip. Jerry Carroll is a guy I have a lot of respect for, but I told him I didn't want anything to do with selling my track to him because of Darrell Waltrip."
ISC holds a comparatively strong hand. Throughout his promotional career, Bahre has been a staunch supporter of both the France family and NASCAR. He booked the Busch East and Modified Series at both Oxford Plains and NHIS for many years -- often losing money in the bargain -- because he believed Big Bill France would never steer him wrong. He built New Hampshire International Speedway with his own money -- initially scraping by on a meager diet of IRL, Busch, Craftsman Truck, Busch East and Whelen Modified Tour events -- hoping that NASCAR’s first family would eventually reward him for his decades of support.
“I would love to get a Cup race someday, and I hope we do,” said Bahre at the time. “But if we don’t, we’ll get by. The fans have been very good to us.”
His gratitude to those New England race fans could sway Bahre to sell the track to Roush-Fenway Racing, since Jack Roush and his partner -- Boston Red Sox owner John Henry -- comprise the best hope of keeping two NASCAR Nextel Cup races in the Granite State.
Carroll, ISC and SMI will surely move at least one of New Hampshire’s races to another venue. Roush-Fenway, however, owns no other tracks, meaning that both race dates will stay in New Hampshire, playing out before the fans that have supported Bahre so staunchly, for so long.
In the end, loyalty will win out over profit. When the time comes to sell New Hampshire International Speedway, either ISC or Roush-Fenway will be chosen to take the reins.
It's the Bob Bahre way.