NASCAR die-hards pack Concord airport to catch a glimpse
Bonnie Johnson, of Greene, Maine, sits with a NASCAR book at the Concord Regional Airport on Thursday, July 11, 2013. Along with her sister, Pam Frank, of Poland Maine, the two joined other NASCAR fans in the hopes of catching a glimpse of some drivers arriving for this weekend's races at The New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon.
(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
Nancy Bottcher, far left, of Loudon, has been wiating year-after-year at the Concord Regional Airport for NASCAR drivers since 2001. "Pouring rain, we don't care, we're here," she said while waiting with other fans on Thursday, July 11, 2013, in the hopes of catching a glimpse of some of this weekend's NASCAR drivers. Bottcher said she has attended every NASCAR race at the track since it opened, postponing a vacation one year because it interfered with a race.
(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
Bonnie Johnson, of Greene, Maine, watches a car drive away from the Concord Regional Airport on Thursday, July 11, 2013. Along with her sister, Pam Frank, of Poland Maine, the two joined other NASCAR fans in the hopes of catching a glimpse of some drivers arriving for this weekend's races at The New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon.
(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
As a small plane landed at Concord Regional Airport about 7 p.m. yesterday, about 20 people sitting in lawn chairs in the parking lot stood up.
“I think Jimmie Johnson just pulled in,” said Tiffany Crane, a devout NASCAR fan from Manchester.
Some members of the group rushed up to the fence in front of their grassy seating area and craned their necks to try to see who got off the plane and climbed into waiting cars.
A car pulled up to the gate right in front of the group, and some people whipped out their cameras or autograph books.
“It’s nobody!” someone close to the gate shouted, and the fans relaxed back into their chairs and continued watching the sky for planes.
The group of NASCAR lovers repeated this scene numerous times yesterday at the airport, where many of the drivers competing in Sunday’s Sprint Cup Series race at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway landed in private planes.
Most members of the group are regulars at the airport on the Thursday before both Sprint Cup races that take place each year at the Loudon speedway. They bring coolers, blankets, chairs and books, and they sit together right outside the gate where cars leave the runway.
When the drivers leave the gate and pass by the group, they sometimes stop, sign autographs and take photographs with their devoted fans.
“We’ve had some really nice interactions with drivers here, and we’ve also had rude ones with them,” Nancy Bottcher of Loudon said. “Some of the drivers we’ve liked in the past we don’t like anymore after seeing what they do to the fans here.”
Bottcher has been coming to the airport for the drivers’ arrivals since 2001. That first year, the second race at the speedway was pushed back due to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and the drivers ended up landing on Thanksgiving.
“We stayed from 8 p.m. to midnight and all the drivers stopped,” Bottcher said. “They all said, ‘It’s Thanksgiving, what are you guys doing here?’ and we said, ‘You guys are coming in.’ And every one of them stopped for us.”
While most of the drivers are pleasant, Crane said some will quickly pass the fans or leave from a back exit to avoid passing them. Last year, she decided to protest when one driver sped by without stopping for
“They came flying through here so I booked it out there (to Airport Road) and I stopped right in the middle of the road, so they weren’t going anywhere,” she said. “So they went around me. But damn, if I was going to do something, if I want them to stop, I would jump in front of the car.”
Crane was waiting at the airport with her 6-year-old son, her friend Dawn Binsse of Bow and Binsse’s children. They arrived about 5 p.m., although Binsse said she would have liked to arrive earlier.
She has greeted the drivers at the airport for every Sprint Cup Series race at Loudon for the past six or seven years and will not miss it for anything.
“Do you guys remember when I came with her with the IV bags in her straight from the hospital?” laughed Binsse, pointing at her 18-year-old daughter Robyn. “She just had surgery, and she had all those IV bags with her. We came straight from Lebanon.”
Binsse carried a large Kasey Kahne poster with her that she has wanted to bring to the airport for years, but has always forgotten. When it was rumored that Kahne could be on a plane that just landed, she jumped up with the poster and stood right behind the fence.
After a minute of straining to see, Binsse walked around the fence and right up to the gate itself for a better view.
“He’s a beautiful man,” she said of Kahne.
Kahne was a common favorite among the group, including for one of the youngest racing fans there, Joshua Saturley. The 15-year-old from Pembroke had a memorable experience with the driver a few years ago when he was staked out at the airport.
“One of the first times I saw Kasey Khane drive by, he had these really bright blue eyes, and I haven’t been able to forget them,” Saturley said. “He’s nice, too.”
Saturley has been watching the driver arrivals for years with his mother, Kellie Tursunovic, and her daughter Sarah Tursunovic, 9. They began coming after Kellie’s brother scored Jeff Gordon’s signature one year and she was jealous. Each year since, the family aims for a new driver’s signature.
“We stay until all the drivers go by,” Kellie Tursunovic said. “Unless sometimes . . . we know who’s coming and if I already have their signatures we’ll leave.”
Across the lawn were two sisters from Greene, Maine, who have a history of opting for more extreme measures to catch a glimpse of their favorite drivers. Pam Frank and Bonnie Johnson, or “the twisted sisters” as they like to be known, spent the night at the Concord airport a few years ago.
“One driver came in at a quarter to 1 a.m. and he wanted to know what we were doing out so late,” Johnson said. “I brought my futon mattress in my van and slept right over there next to a Porta Potty.”
The pair stopped by the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport yesterday afternoon to see if any notable drivers were landing there, but no luck. And even though the stream of planes landing in the evening at the Concord airport was more of a trickle, none of the fans seemed to mind.
Instead, Binsse recalled the time former driver Jeremy Mayfield left his car to hug a young girl in a wheelchair, the “most impressive thing (she’s) ever seen any of the drivers do at the airport.”
Bottcher then remembered when she yelled at Mayfield for swatting a mosquito and informed him he was swatting the state bird of New Hampshire.
Binsse and Bottcher are two of the “veterans,” the devoted NASCAR fans who are always at the airport before the Sprint Cup Series races at the speedway. The regulars recognize each other, and enjoy their two nights per year together immensely.
“We all kind of know each other,” Bottcher said of the airport crew. “It’s like a social thing. We only see each other twice a year here, and everyone’s friends.”
(Mel Flanagan can be reached at 369-3321 or