10 Reasons Why YOU Should Visit the NH Motor Speedway
Need a good reason to go to a NASCAR race in Loudon? Here are 10 of them. If you still refuse, then, to quote New Hampshire’s Sarah Silverman (speaking about something entirely different), “You’re being ridiculous.”
Most everybody has a list of things they want to do “someday.” For many Granite Staters, NASCAR is on that list. After all, NH Motor Speedway’s “Magic Mile” oval in Loudon is one of just 29 tracks currently in use for what is the most popular spectator sport in the US (and the second most-watched on TV — right after the NFL). So, go find your bucket list (if you can remember where you left it), and move this right to the top. We did —“we” being “Wheels” writer Rick Mastin (the “me” in this article) and photographer John Benford — and both of us learned a thing or two, but mostly we just had a ball. There’s another NASCAR weekend in Loudon in September. If you go, pick a driver to root for and wear your number proudly. Chances are, you’ll run into a few folks you know (or will know before you leave).
1. For starters, it’s simply a monster event.
The New Hampshire Motor Speedway is larger than either Gillette or Fenway and maybe both put together. As a matter of fact, you can fit either of those hallowed venues on the infield at NHMS. For me, just taking in the speedway itself is worth the trip. At 1,200 acres, it has eight huge parking lots, 38 VIP suites, 25 restrooms, five ATMs, four elevators, an interactive fan park and seating for 88,000 of your best friends. These nonstop races, which feature some of the best drivers in the world, are nationally televised. Race fans also translate into general tourists who stay to spend their money in other ways, so say hello. Outside the grounds, there is, of course, lovely New Hampshire. Right nearby, Lake Winnipesaukee and two of its popular lakeside towns, Laconia and Meredith, beckon during the summer months. The natural playgrounds of the White Mountains, Sunapee and Monadnock regions are all accessible as well. If you want to catch up on your hiking, fishing or sun soaking, then it’s all here. As a result, an extra $200 million is poured into the local economy during race week. There has to be something going on here.
photos by john benford
Motorsports announcer Dick Berggren
promotes his museum dedicated to racing
history, scheduled to open next year at NHMS.
2. People of every shape, size and origin, all there for the love of one sport.
It’s a great feeling being with people who share the same excitement. There no pretenses; they are here for the spectacle, the excitement and fun. They come from at least 20 states and Canada. They are loggers, plumbers, lawyers, rock stars (Steven Tyler, Joey Kramer and Brad Whitford have all been spotted) and major league sports stars like Derek Sanderson, Matt Patricia and Larry Bird. Politicians? How about George Bush, Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani? There’s no typical race fan. My sister-in-law is an engineering aide/computer programmer. She went one time and became an instant fan (with an interest in the technical side, natch). But everyone has their reasons. I spoke with a fan from Sunapee who is more into the driving. He brings his wife and two kids camping for three days at both the July and September races. Tom Ford, a NH surgical assistant, says, “I like NASCAR because it is a spectacle of whirling, loud color like no other sport. I love the rush and the smell of rubber and fuel together, when the green flag drops, as the cars come roaring out of turn 4. You can feel your bones vibrate as they pass you, and you try to pick out your favorite driver in the lightning-fast mass of metal. There is no other rush like it in all of sports.” And again, you never know who’ll be cheering with you. It’s too late to get the late Ted Williams’ autograph (he was Grand Marshall there on July 11, 1999), but there’s always Adam Sandler.
Some of the best food you can get at an event like this is right here in New Hampshire. The track sports 66 food stands, so it’s easy to find something you like.
It also has two restaurants. One is the Lite Lobster Lounge. It features, of course, authentic lobster dishes, along with other sandwich and salad options. The Lounge is open to all during race weekend and promotes a family-friendly environment. My guess is you’ll probably find one of the sponsor’s cold brews there. Rumor has it they will pour 17,500 beers. The other restaurant is the Smoke Shack, which is located on the infield. It can be tough to get to during this big event, but, if you have VIP tickets or an infield pit pass, well, ribs it is. Racing star Danica Patrick said, “My favorite place to race is, oddly enough, Loudon … I love getting stuffed lobster there.” One stand we passed on our way to the Lobster Lounge offered three different kinds of sausage. At the Lounge, our photographer opted for fish and chips on a stick. (“Quite tasty,” he said.) Fun food fact: 12,500 hotdogs will be eaten; that’s enough to go around the track 1.25 times.
4. Wheels, gears and bucks.
Don’t like watching cars drive laps? How about the technical end? The 301 laps take four hours and require eight complete sets of tires and 60 gallons of fuel. One car involves an engineer, crew chief, 16 crew members, one tractor-trailer carrying two cars, two motors, transmissions, rear-ends, body pieces, windshields and enough tools to take a car apart and put it back together. Or how about the financial aspect?
Each car costs around $200,000 and, when they’re done racing it, they rebuild it. Stewart-Haas Racing will field four cars at NHMS. Travel for them will be around $32,000 for the event. The hauler costs around $500,000, and this week’s payroll and expenses will bounce off $350,000. We still haven’t added the folks back home at the shop. They will rent cars, hotel rooms, dine out, sightsee, shop for supplies and play golf in the surrounding area. Mind-boggling — and they haven’t started an engine yet.
According to the rules of competition, NASCAR makes sure each car is set up identically. Shocks, tires, driver’s seats, windshields, body panels, carburetors, nuts, bolts, brakes, exhaust and roll bars, which make up safety cages for the drivers, all must be approved. NASCAR, in most cases, tells the competitors exactly what products they can use.
So how do they keep rule-benders in line? One way is the post-race inspection. Using a computer-aided measurement system that is accurate to within a thousandth of an inch, it creates a 3-D representation of the car and matches it against the NASCAR system for heights, lengths and widths. Cars that don’t measure up (or down) can be disqualified. Most times, however, they are fined and docked valuable points that are accumulated up until the championship at the end of the year. Winning cars are completely torn down at the end of every race to ensure that the frames, motors, transmissions, rear ends, etc. all conform.
Racing tires are not what you’d buy at Tire Warehouse. The outermost layer of the tire has no tread but uses different compounds for each track depending on the conditions it offers. A team will use nine to 14 sets of tires depending on track layout, track conditions, length of race and speeds.
Instead of air, tires are filled with nitrogen gas. It allows for less fluctuation and more accurate tire pressures during hotter conditions. Racing tires demand accurate tire pressure for durability and safety.
Goodyear is the only manufacturer of tires used in the Xfinity Series of NASCAR racing.
NHMS Fan Zone has race-sanctioned vendors and sponsors with products you won’t find downtown. Ford, Toyota and Chevrolet all bring their current rides for all to see, giving you a great opportunity to look at a race-tested car without sales pressure. Most of the sponsors show here and bring specially branded products. Wanna race or become an owner/driver? Granite State Legends sell their relatively affordable race cars (based on American classic car designs) onsite. The Fanatics track-side super store has the best NASCAR memorabilia shopping in town, and the Daniel Webster Council Boy Scouts have sold race gear for a decade, recently making enough money to pay for a Scout trip to St. John in the Virgin Islands.
Fans can drive a race car simulator to get a taste of some real NASCAR tracks.
If you want to be inspired by team efforts, just look around. There are 25 racing teams featuring about 147 on-car sponsors. Currently, 67 major sponsors and three car manufacturers work with NHMS to make this event happen. Sponsors will be at the race to support teams, watch the event, and get their name and product in front of the crowds. The race teams themselves have to work like well-oiled machines for even a chance at having a winning race car.
Meanwhile, NHMS will be working with all those mentioned plus NH State Police, Loudon police, NHDOT, NH Air National Guard, Speedway Safety Services, Concord and Manchester Airports, and private helicopter flights bringing VIPs in and out of the track. Add to that some 200 vendors and 500 employees. Kumbaya, indeed.
There's adventure off the track too, like this acrobatic amusement.
7. Nonstop things for the kids (big and little) to do.
NHMS offers awesome ticket packages to get the whole family there. At the interactive park, they have Wildlife Encounters with live animal programs. I was followed around by a very large turtle last year. After that, try a little radio-controlled car action or get behind the wheel of the Trackmaster Go-Karts. The kids can race in the morning and get an eyeful of the pros in the afternoon. The big deal for this year is the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series kids autograph session. They can get up close and personal with the drivers — which you just can’t get at other pro sports series. When Adam Sandler was named Grand Marshall at last year’s race, he said, “When I was a little kid in New Hampshire, I used to watch NASCAR with my dad and brother, and we looooved it.” We can’t guarantee your kids will grow up to be movie moguls, but they will definitely have some great memories of family times.
8. Camping with other fans.
NHMS has a huge campground with 13 different areas and 5,000 sites, creating a huge social scene where many regular fans look forward to getting back together with friends. It’s all serviced by trolley to get you to and from the track with ease. The campgrounds are for armchair racing, resting up for a second day of action and barbecuing. As you might imagine, there are a few RVs there. Put them end to end and the line will stretch 31 miles. Somewhere in there, anyone could find some fun. Some parts of the campground are more famous for “fun” than others, but you probably have to be there a few nights to find out the different zones. Or just walk around and listen.
9. Skill and speed.
Matt Kenseth (#20), in the yellow car at left, took home the victory in this race
The cars go 150 miles an hour, bumper to bumper, door to door — not exactly I-93. I promise that the first time they go by under full throttle, it will take your breath away. These guys are working and driving cars that are on the verge of going out of control. At the same time, each driver is counting on the other drivers to keep a cool head for the full race. Everybody wants to finish, but that never happens. One mistake in the close formations (sometimes inches apart) at NHMS, and you have mayhem. One car crashing could end up as 10 cars spinning. Then it’s back to the pit to fix the damage and get back out there. Drivers must monitor oil pressure, gas pressure, brake fade, engine RPMs, the driver behind and the two drivers ahead. Drivers try to identify “ill handling” cars that they can pass to improve their finish. They get signals from a spotter who hangs out at the top of the stands to give a heads-up on nearby challengers and provide updated safety info such as where there may an accident or debris on the race track. Kinda like rippin’ home from work, right?
10. It’s YOUR speedway.
Some drive for days to make it to the races, while right here in our backyard, easy and close, is one of the greatest shows on earth. Barnum would truly be impressed, but you won’t leave feeling like a sucker. The parking is laid out well around the track, it’s people-friendly and you can bring a lunch and drinks in your backpack. The staff at NHMS is trained to help. They really want you to have a good experience — they want you to come back. And there’s a good chance you will. Hey, it may be your bucket list, but you can also bring the kids to see something they should experience at least once and will probably never forget. It might even turn into a tradition. Leaving is surprisingly well-orchestrated too. State Police and DOT are working hard here and have the road set up for one-way traffic back to I-293, where you can bust in either direction. Even with the incredible flood of traffic leaving the race, I have been home in Sunapee in just over an hour, satisfied from a smoking day of auto racing.