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Fans say goodbye to NHMS’s fall NASCAR race

  • Crowds disperse at the conclusion of the ISM Connect 300 NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon on Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • James Hill (left) and James Hill Jr., talk about the loss of the September race before the start of the ISM Connect 300 NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon on Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz / Monitor staff

  • Ben Bourgeois writes "Ben #2" on the outside wall near the finish line before the start of the ISM Connect 300 NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon on Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017. Bourgeois has been a fan of the #2 car, regardless of driver, since he was about 4 years old. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Scenes from the ISM Connect 300 NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon on Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Curtis Cyr, 7, of Concord has his photo taken with a #22 crew member before the start of the ISM Connect 300 NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon on Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Dressed as superheroes trying to save the race, Gwen Borthwick (left) and Teresa Belyea of St. Stephen in Canada frame themselves with the words “Loudon 2017 bring back the Sept race” at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon on Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017. The women have been coming to the September NASCAR race in Loudon since about 1994. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

  • Gwen Borthwick of St. Stephen in Canada frames a stuffed toy with the words "Loudon 2017 bring back the Sept race" at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon on Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017. Borthwick, dressed as a superhero trying to save the race, has been coming to the September NASCAR race in Loudon since about 1994. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

  • Scenes from the ISM Connect 300 NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon on Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Scenes from the ISM Connect 300 NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon on Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Scenes from the ISM Connect 300 NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon on Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Scenes from the ISM Connect 300 NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon on Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • People in the crowd wave and cheer at NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon on Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz / Monitor staff

  • Scenes from the ISM Connect 300 NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon on Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Scenes from the ISM Connect 300 NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon on Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Crowds disperse at the conclusion of the ISM Connect 300 NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon on Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Fans file out of Mew Hampshire Motor Speedway after the ISM Connect 300 NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series auto race on Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff



Monitor staff
Sunday, September 24, 2017

James Hill and his son, James Jr., will be back next year, but for only one visit. The Hills are New Hampshire Motor Speedway regulars, Connecticut men who have been making the two-hour drive up to Loudon twice each year since 2003.

They renewed their tickets for next summer’s race back in July the moment they could. James Hill Sr. has been coming to Loudon since 1997, the first year NASCAR decided to dedicate two races in its premier Cup series to the New England track.

Twenty years later, NASCAR is pulling out. The big names such as Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski will make only one trip to New Hampshire in 2018 and beyond. The national auto racing body and Speedway Motorsports Inc., the parent company of NHMS, have decided there’s better business in Las Vegas. That’s where Loudon’s playoff race is going.

The Hills get it, but they’re disappointed. Their love for NASCAR runs deep, and they’re willing to hit the road to see a race. They’ve been to Pocono in Pennsylvania and Watkins Glen in upstate New York. Dover might be their next stop. But New Hampshire was their home track, and not simply because it’s the shortest drive. It’s where the memories are. James Jr. records the winner of every race on his phone. His list reached 75 on Sunday with Busch typed in as the winner.

There’s another person with happy memories at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Busch won his third Cup race on the Magic Mile on Sunday, and he’s won a dozen races here between NASCAR’s three national series. His burnout down the front stretch drew cheers from the fans crowding the fence near the start/finish line.

“This place is exciting; it always lends itself to exciting moments. We had one today, that’s for sure,” said Busch, the 2015 Cup series champion.

Still, Busch wasn’t too heartbroken that he’d be spending more time in Sin City.

“I’m partial to the Vegas thing because I’m from there,” he said. “That’s my hometown and it gives us the opportunity for two triple headers out there.”

New Hampshire is not the most exciting track on the circuit. Cars often get bogged down in the corners, making it difficult to pass. The entertainment value of the racing was improved when track officials put down a traction compound in the corners back in July. The compound gives drivers two more lane options beyond the favored middle groove, creating more opportunities to pass. It worked well and was used again this weekend.

By the eyeball test, there may have been more fans attending this race than back in July, but it still didn’t come close to the heyday of the late 1990s and 2000s. Back then, it was a ritual for the track to announce its attendance of 101,000. Back then, a reporter had to rise early to beat the traffic heading north on Route 106 to the speedway. On Sunday, the makeshift three-lane highway on 106 was cruising steadily and with speed at 9 a.m. That wouldn’t have been the case in 1999 or 2005, according to the veterans on the race beat in the media center.

NASCAR is hardly the only sport losing eyeballs and seeing drops in attendance at venues across the nation, but the rate of decline is concerning. The audience that’s sticking around is getting older, too. Tapping into the next generation of fans appears to be NASCAR’s top priority. The sport has certainly found its next generation of drivers that have star potential. Chase Elliott (age 21), Ryan Blaney (23), and Kyle Larson (25) are all playoff drivers competing for a championship this year. 

The fans that did arrive Sunday, though not in the same numbers as years past, were loud and having a good time. Before the race, fans flooded pit road taking selfies in front of their favorite driver’s pit box and scrawling messages on the start/finish line and the outside wall on the track. They pointed to the sky as two F-15s screamed over the track at the end of the national anthem. They sat their children on their laps, the older ones sat by their sides. They stood and waved and cheered as the pace car pulled off the track and 40 engines roared down the front stretch to the green flag.

More memories were created on Sunday, and more opportunities are in the future – just half as many as fans had hoped.

(Nick Stoico can be reached at 369-3339, nstoico@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @NickStoico.)