Saturday, September 15, 2007

Plenty of room for racing

LOUDON, N.H. - There's a story going around up this way that New Hampshire International Speedway is for sale. I've been coming here 11 years now, and that sentence could have been written virtually every time I've been here.

Bob Bahre not only owns this track, it's like he's part of it. You see him around the garage and several other places all the time, far more than you ever see any other track owner unless you happen to be hob-nobbing in some corporate suite.

(That might not be totally fair. Dr. Joe Mattioli at Pocono is around a lot, too. But he and Bahre are certainly 1 and 1A in that department.)

Every time I'm here, I go into the little diner/snack bar next door to the media center for lunch on Friday. The food's good and the prices (yes, I pay) are very reasonable.

Every time, there's a big table in a corner with Bahre sitting there talking to NASCAR's top officials, usually including Mike Helton, Robin Pemberton and John Darby or at least some combination of the above.

There's a social element to the gathering, and of course there's lunch, too. But Bahre is also asking the NASCAR brass if there are any problems that need to be attended to as well. If something comes up, he'll take care of it. He won't disptach a minion to do it, either.

Bahre is 81 years old. He goes like he's half that age, but one of these days he's not going to want to put up with doing all he has to do to run a big-time race track. He's got a son, Gary, but Gary has apparently made it abundantly clear that he doesn't have this place in his blood the way his father has.

So with Nextel Cup dates worth their weight in dollar bills, the fact that ownership of this track might one day change hands stirs great interest.

Bahre has talked to International Speedway Corp. and to Speedway Motorsports Inc. (and its owner Bruton Smith), and the latest story is he has talked to John Henry, the man whose Fenway Sports Group bought into Roush Racing earlier this year.

That would be a perfect marriage, between the Boston Red Sox and this track.

You can't swing a rope around your head here without hitting someone in a Red Sox hat, and while the rest of the country this week has been paying a lot of attention to the New England Patriots' "spygate" affair the folks up here are obsessing over every pitch of a weekend series at Fenway Park with the New York Yankees.

There's absolutely no question that the Sox own this region. The Patriots might be a dynasty, but I once was at a Super Bowl where the Pats played the Carolina Panthers and all the Boston media could talk about was the latest developments on the baseball team's pitching staff.

That having been said, these folks also love racing. It rained all morning Saturday and it took until the start of the Truck Series race at 3 p.m. to get anything on the track.

The weather cleared and the Trucks raced, then the Whelen Modified cars took the track. As the sun went down behind the grandstands, the wind picked up and it was beginning to get a little chilly (by my standards, at least). But there were still plenty of people in the grandstands watching that race.

When this track is sold one day, the new owner might have plans to take one of the Cup dates away. That'd be wrong. The fans here fill this place up. They've done nothing to warrant losing a race. They support this track and support racing on all levels.

If selling it to John Henry and the Fenway group, maybe that means the New England roots will hold and those fans won't face that fate. Baseball might be king in New England, but there's plenty of room for racing here, too.


Anonymous said...

Bravo David!!!!

Nice to hear someone finally sticking up for NHIS...

There are a LOT of passionate NASCAR fans here in New England, and that is proven by sellouts months in advance for both races.

Yes, NASCAR has its roots in the southeast, but those outsice that region love great racing as well!

Anonymous said...

David, David, David, I don't care WHAT transpires with ownership of NHIS, I rue the day that Bruton, Bahre and the France Family Mafia stole the dates from Wilkes Co! And how everybody says that it can't be used for a Nascar event! I say B as in B, S as in S!

Unknown said...

If John Henry is involved, then there is an ulterior motive. He has no interest in a race track than to further his interest in sim racing. It is the same reason he wanted ownership with Roush - it gives him the access he needs.

He is the ultimate slimeball, which is too bad for the race fans in the NE.

Mr. Parson said...

I was at NHIS for the old Indy Car race in 1994. I was fourteen and I left my camera in the stands. Dad and I went to the track office to see if it got turned in and Mr. Bahre himself was standing behind the counter working right along side his employees.

Someone did actually hand my camera in too. The fans at NHIS are great and I've always remembered my visit there fondly.

Anonymous said...

Bahre reminds me of old Sam Walton of Walmart fame ..who spent 4 and half days a week in the stores and a half a day in the office which he thought was excessive but couldn't pare it back anymore...The sport needs to keep Bruton and ISC out of anymore tracks and needs more good independant owners...Anyhting to keep the dates at New Hampshire is a good thing..the fans have supported that track overwhelmingly.. what more could you ask for...

Anonymous said...

I agree with Tim Robinson, to bad for the passionate NASCAR fans in New England.

Brian Vermette said...

Thank You, I've lived in New England all my life and I have been a huge racing fan (NASCAR) since sometime around 1991-1992 and its been incredible. I've been going to NHIS since 1998 or so and its great up there, yesterday was my first Cup race and watched the race on pit road, now thats fun.

I hope two Cup races do stay at NHIS too and they do sellout twice every year, I don't know what I would do if we lost either one or both races, there's nothing like seeing any level of races in person including the Cup Series, what an experience.

Note: I'm not a press member, I'm a blogger and huge racing fan.

brett1963 said...

Nothing against Bahre or New Hampshire. Everything I read about the man is extremely positive. David does mention though that his son does not seem interested. The only outcome I see here, and I'm surprised David did not mention it, NHIS selling to the Kentucky Speedway Group. It makes perfect sense and was repoprted in USA Today.

Jery Carroll and the folks at Kentucky Speedway are not the evil whining crybabies some in the media make them out to be. They are extremely talented sports promoters with as much passion for racing as any owner. The only logical conclusion is that the sale is made and one of dates gets moved to Kentucky. This ties up lots of loose ends, the sale that didnt through last time Carroll tried to buy the track (Bahre did not sell because NASCAR told him not him not to and he still was enjoying both dates), it gets Kentucky a date is most definitely deserves, and gives NASCAR the ability to settle the lawsuit quietly. Make no mistake, Kentucky will not just go away, they will get a date, the ownership will see to that, they have powerful backers and the best legal team in the country. While no promises we're ever "officially" made to Kentucky, they were lead by the nose by NASCAR to a "promised land" that pulled out from under them.

NASCAR greed for a NYC and Pacific NW track lead to their decision to tell everyone that Kentucky was "told" they would not a race, that came much after the fact. After the fact that NASCAR told Kentucky all the things they needed to do to get a Cup race.

This should end as it should, with one of the races going to a first class facility at Kentucky and NHIS still one the schedule on not off it ala Rockingham and Wilkesboro.

Anonymous said...

Yeah well Texas probably wasn't promised a date either...nor a second date ala Rockingham!

Monkeesfan said...

NHIS is in the right demographic for NASCAR - if the track were close to Boston it wouldn't sell as well because Boston is not a racing demographic.

And Bahre and Mattioli are exactly the kind of track owners the sport needs - hands-on types who know things down in the trenches and who work with others. It's no accident they share jet dryers.

There may be something to John Henry purchasing the track, though I agree Bob Bahre looks far away from selling it. If Henry did buy it I don't see where he'd change anything because the place is run so well plus he's a racing novice who'd need all the expert help he could get. Fred Neergaard is one of the very best PR people in racing and everything the track does is done well.

Yes I'd have preferred a 2.5-miler to the layout they have, but it's still good.

Speaking of 2.5-mile layouts, I'm not sold that the Modifieds, which put on the best races of the weekends here, can't race Pocono's big layout.

There's plenty of room for racing in New England - racing, football, hockey, and baseball.

Monkeesfan said...

brett1963 - I still don't understand why the schedule can't be expanded to include dates at Kentucky. Certainly Kentucky is a better demographic than New York City or the Pacific Northwest.

Why would NHIS sell to the Kentucky Speedway Group? And why would they take a date from a profitable speedway? Wouldn't they want to keep both dates there?

tim robinson, I'll agree that John Henry has never struck me as the kind of owner I'd want for the team I root for - as opposed to Robert Kraft, who is everything a fan could want in a team owner - but the ulterior motive argument I've heard with regard to the Red Sox - that they'd start cutting salary, pocketing what they could, and eventually "pillage" the team and sell it. What I've seen, though, is exactly the opposite.

Anonymous said...

Bob Bhare should not sell the New Hampshire International Speedway whom he owned. For 40 years of his management then to sell it to John Henry and to the Fenway group.Maybe Bob Bhare has a great plan of it.If it is sold, i thought much better it would remain a track race. Because it was already the trademark of that place than to convert it to a baseball arena.

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