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NASCAR

You want it, you’ve got it – Truck Series returning to NHMS

The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series hadn’t even been out of Loudon a year when Jerry Gappens started hearing the requests.

The New Hampshire Motor Speedway general manager took trips to the track’s campground during race weekends in 2012, looking to get the customer’s take on the events the venue was offering – as well as what improvements could be made to the ticket.

He kept hearing the same thing. The fans wanted the trucks back. When this summer came around, the responses hadn’t changed.

“I’ve gotten a lot of feedback over the last (two) years that they’d like to see the trucks come back,” Gappens said. “I got that as immediate feedback the first year the trucks weren’t here. … I heard it from a few (fans), but not all the time. By the second year, I heard more of that. … That’s kind of our report card. They’re very honest.”

A survey these days would garner some high marks from those fans. The Truck Series is coming back to Loudon after a two-year absence, and again will be serving as the top event in September leading up to Sunday’s Chase for the Sprint Cup race. The weekend already had a strong regional presence, with Whelen Modified Tour, KGN Pro Series East and ACT races among the regulars, but Gappens said landing the marquee race was a win for the track – as well as the thousands who pack the stands.

“I think they’ll look at the regional races as great support of it,” he said. “But I think the fans expect a major anchor event.”

For years, they had one. There was a Sprint Cup race in June or July and in September at NHMS, and in the summer, the Nationwide Series was the high-profile companion race, while in the fall, the trucks took the role. But after the 2011 season, Kentucky Speedway – like NHMS, a Speedway Motorsports, Inc.-owned venue – wanted a second NASCAR weekend, and with no Sprint Cup race to give the track, SMI owner Bruton Smith made a call to Loudon to talk to Gappens about giving the trucks race to the sister track.

Knowing he had a full enough weekend already, Gappens agreed.

“I agreed to it because I felt pretty good about the Modified race and the ACT race,” he said. “Then, after we added the K&N like we did, I thought that regional touring series, ‘Super Saturday’ type of concept would still work here. And it did.”

Still, Gappens kept his options open, so when Kentucky gave up the Truck Series and the event became available, knowledge of what the series could bring back to the track – as well as two years’ worth of fan opinion – told him to pounce.

“We were happy to request (it) and we got it,” he said. “There was a date and an availability and we were able to bring that on over to New Hampshire.

“It greatly enhances that September weekend, and getting back on the schedule is a direct result of input from the fans.”

Returning to hosting each of NASCAR’s three major circuits has plenty of advantages for NHMS. One is the increased exposure and sponsorship opportunity that comes with holding an event that attracts a national audience and following. Another is the increase in gate receipts that will come as a result, as more fans will flock to see a series like Truck or Nationwide, which consistently send drivers to the Sprint Cup circuit and often have Cup drivers double up and compete a tier down.

A third advantage is a combination of both; another major NASCAR race brings more fans, and from farther away – proving Loudon’s pull is stretching beyond New England.

“Having the Nationwide and Truck Series is certainly a lot more familiar to the fans who are coming from all over the country as opposed to just the regional touring series,” said Gappens, who mentioned the track this year drew from 44 states and 12 foreign countries. “I think that’s a great anchor for the Saturday in September, just like the Nationwide race is a great anchor event for the July Saturday.”

(Drew Bonifant can be reached at 369-3340 or at abonifant@cmonitor.com, or via Twitter @dbonifant.)

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