It’s official. Speedway Motorsports, Inc., is the new owner of New Hampshire International Speedway, after paying a reported $340 million for Bob Bahre’s one-mile White Mountain oval. The purchase will become final in the first quarter of next year, and the track will be renamed New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
No announcement was made about moving one of the track's two Nextel Cup races to Las Vegas Motor Speedway, but sources close to the situation say that move will happen, perhaps as early as next season, but by 2009 for sure.
I feel sad for New England race fans today, who supported NHIS as well as any fan group in the country. The track’s two Nextel Cup dates were perennial sellouts; despite a slew of ho-hum, one-lane affairs in the beginning, and even through the dark times surrounding the tragic deaths of Adam Petty and Kenny Irwin. Northeast racefans love their NASCAR racing, and it’s sad that they are destined to lose one of their coveted race dates.
Couldn’t California have taken the bullet instead?
In my mind, I understand that Las Vegas deserves a second Nextel Cup date. LVMS is conveniently located in the heart of one of the country’s top tourist meccas, its “Neon Garage” is the standard by which all NASCAR Fan Walks should be judged, and the racetrack itself is beginning to come around after a liberal reworking during the offseason. It’s probably not the most competitive venue in NASCAR, but then again, neither was New Hampshire. On that front, I guess it’s all a wash.
I also can’t fall in line with those who decry the sale of NHIS as a case of big business run amok. I could share their outrage, were it not for the way Bob Bahre obtained his second race date in 1996; purchasing half of the legendary North Wilkesboro Speedway and spiriting one of its races away to the Granite State.
Live by the sword, die by the sword. What goes around comes around.
Still I can’t help feeling sorry for New England race fans today. They probably don’t deserve what’s soon to come. And while I’m at it, I guess I’m also feeling a little bit sorry for myself. Simply put, I’ll miss my twice-annual treks to NHIS.
I’ll miss touching base with dozens of lifelong friends that I somehow see just twice a year now, wandering the garage in Loudon.
I’ll miss walking the Busch East and Whelen Modified Tour garages, renewing acquaintances with people I have idolized for a decades.
I’ll miss calling the Craftsman Truck, Busch and Nextel Cup races there for MRN Radio, knowing there are at least a few hundred people in the house thinking, “I heard this guy call the Street Stock consi at Thunder Road in 1982.”
I’ll miss dealing with one of the best staffs in all of NASCAR -- people like P.R. Director Fred Neergaard, V.P. of Marketing Joe McGahan and the omnipresent Ron Meade – all of whom were not only willing to solve problems, but to anticipate them in advance and dole out help with a smile and a “thanks for coming.”
I’ll miss sprinting to my prime parking spot at the Sugar House across Route 106, a spot that allowed me to hit the leather recliner in my living room just two hours after the checkered flag.
I’ll miss the feel of NHIS; more personal than corporate.
More than anything, though, I think I’ll miss Bob Bahre. One of the last old-time, independent track owners, Bahre built NHIS out of his own pocket, with no need for investment bankers or public handouts. He and younger brother Dick laid out the “Magic Mile” themselves with wooden stakes, eschewing the high-dollar, college-educated engineering help that has cursed NASCAR with so many 1.5-mile, cookie-cutter tri-ovals in recent years.
I’ll miss Bahre’s rumpled white dress shirt, khaki slacks and yellow cardigan sweater, shuffling between souvenir trailers making sure the paying customers have everything they want, or need.
I’ll miss seeing him huddled over a plate of fried eggs and homefries in the track restaurant on race morning, touching base with Mike Helton, Jim Hunter and any other of his old cronies that happen to wander by.
I’ll miss seeing hard-luck drivers tow out of NHIS after failing to qualify, clutching the few hundred extra dollars Bahre inevitably slipped them on their way through the tunnel.
At nearly 82 years of age, “Papa Bahre” has earned the right to do what he wants with his remaining years, without the stress and strain of running a big-time NASCAR race venue. He deserves to retire to the big house on the hill with his wife, Sandy, and his antique cars, content in the knowledge that he did more for New England motorsports than anyone else, before or since.
Thanks Bob, and God Bless.