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A bright idea for NHMS

LOUDON – Jerry Gappens, the face of New Hampshire Motor Speedway as its executive vice president and general manager, got lucky yesterday, avoiding rain and a really big headache.

The Sylvania 300 was held, in its entirety, despite a forecast that said rain in the morning, rain in the afternoon, and rain on Gappens’s parade. But because it stayed dry, Gappens didn’t have to worry about a Chase race that was decided before 300 laps – 150 would have made it official – nor did he have to bring the whole show back today because a winner had not been decided.

All of which made the issue of lights at the speedway a hot topic, at least through Saturday night, when the forecast was bad. With lights, Gappens could have waited and waited and waited until the rain cleared, then finished the race.

No shortened race during the second of 10 playoff races. No returning today to run it again, a huge logistical problem. The opening Chase race, last weekend in Chicago, was delayed until 10 p.m. then was completed under the lights into the wee hours of Monday morning.

“I’m surprised NASCAR doesn’t require lights to give you the opportunity that they had in Chicago,” said Gappens, sitting in the Media Center an hour before the race. “If that happened here, it would cause a lot of problems.”

New England’s lone Cup speedway is one of four tracks among the 10 Chase facilities without lights. Gappens said he’s been advocating for lights the past two years, but an agreement made by former owner Bob Bahre with the town of Loudon five years ago states racing must be through by 7:30 p.m.

Residents have shied from the lights ever since, despite the fact that fans tell Gappens that they want them so the July race can run on a Saturday night, thus reducing heat and humidity, and the September race can have an insurance policy.

“Through my interaction with fans, the number one request is for lights,” Gappens said. “Someone canceled their tickets because it was too hot for their grandfather. They said they’d renew them if we had lights.”

The worst case scenario yesterday, postponement until today, would have meant that many fans would have missed the race.

“You have to evacuate 100,000 fans,” Gappens said. “You have to turn around and get them back on Monday. It’s a huge problem for law enforcement, and people have to go to work. Lighting extends our options.”

Gappens believes lights will heighten the electricity at the speedway, in more ways than one.

“Look at what Monday Night Football did for the NFL,” Gappens said. “It opened it to new audiences. It would take the race to a new level, make it a spectacle.”

Gappens added that he’s not worried about losing the Chase race, but with NASCAR’s new $8.2 billion TV contract with FOX and NBC, which begins in 2015, race officials might make some changes to offer the best product possible.

That could mean a demand for lights.

“I can see NASCAR saying that with this investment, we need to get these races in,” Gappens said. “They may say we need lights.”

The scandal

While NASCAR continued to hope the scandal from two weeks ago in Richmond, where Clint Bowyer spun his car to help nudge teammate Martin Truex Jr. into the Chase, was behind them, the issue resurfaced when NAPA pulled its sponsorship from Truex’s car and Michael Waltrip Racing.

“We’re here for entertainment, but we’re not the World Wide Wrestling Federation,” Gappens said. “We should not be manipulating the finish in our sport.”

Still, Gappens said comparisons to the 1919 Chicago White Sox, who conspired with gamblers to throw the World Series, are not fair.

“I’ve heard people try to compare it to that,” Gappens said. “There’s no way it was as bad.”

In fact, Gappens said, a little controversy on this level might not be such a bad thing for the sport.

“There could have been a positive to it,” Gappens said. “It was the start of the NFL and college football, and this kept us in the top of the news.”

A ski trip to remember

Amy McCloskey and Chrissy Staunton, both 51-year-old Philadelphia residents, came to New Hampshire in February to ski at Attitash Mountain Resort.

They went home with $25,000, their winnings from a scratch ticket.

But hold on. There’s more.

The duo returned yesterday for a grand prize drawing of $500,000, along with four other recent winners. They picked the winning card on stage, in front of 100,000 race fans, then received one of those big checks, the size of a picnic table.

They both said they will pay the college tuition for their sons, estimated at $150,000. The rest, about $100,000 each, is theirs.

“I have to think about what I’ll do with it,” Staunton said.

Added McCloskey, “I’m going skiing at Attitash.”

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or rduckler@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @rayduckler.)

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