Race weekend 'under the gun'

Last modified: 5/12/2010 12:00:00 AM
The only thing New Hampshire Motor Speedway and the Loudon selectmen agreed on at last night's meeting was the need to act quickly to figure out how to police next month's NASCAR race weekend.

"Now we're under the gun," Selectman Steven Ives said.

After months of discussion between Loudon police Chief Bob Fiske and speedway Security Director Mark Furlone, as well as the creation of a state task force to address the speedway's concerns about the cost of law enforcement coverage, the town and the track are still about $100,000 apart on the price of fire and police protection before and during the June 27 Sprint Cup race.

Fiske presented the selectmen last night with a memorandum of understanding, which stated that the track will pay $174,500 - which includes $134,000 for police coverage - as it did for the September 2009 race.

But speedway owner Bruton Smith has said he is capping what he will pay for police and fire for June's race at $75,000. None of Smith's seven other speedways has to pay for local emergency services, said Jerry Gappens, the speedway's executive vice president.

Gappens refused to sign the memorandum, which he has called "an insult" to the relationship between the speedway and the town.

"It's a slap in the face," he told the selectmen.

But Ives said Smith's approach to capping police and fire expenses at $75,000 started the dispute off on the wrong foot.

"That fans the flames on our side," said Ives, who characterized Smith's approach as: "This is all I'm paying, and you guys can work with it."

Selectman Dustin Bowles said he will not settle for entering June's race weekend without a letter signed by the speedway verifying how much it is willing to pay for police and fire coverage. If that doesn't happen, he said, the town will demand that the speedway bond the money.

"We're going to need something," he said.

Ives questioned the speedway's reliance on Fiske to come up with ways to cut costs.

"I don't think the onus is on Bob to design your security plan," he said.

But Gappens said Fiske "has made it very clear that this is his public safety plan."

Furlone said his suggestions to replace police officers with private security had not been incorporated into the plan.

Furlone announced at the meeting that he was contacted yesterday by state Safety Commissioner John Barthelmes. Barthelmes was a member of the task force convened by Gov. John Lynch to see if more state resources could be provided to the track.

While the task force meetings proved fruitless, Furlone said Barthelmes suddenly told him yesterday that about a dozen state troopers could be lent to the track for the upcoming race weekend.

"This should have happened a couple months ago," Ives said.

Because of the new resources now available, which may lower the cost of police coverage, the selectmen decided to wait before signing Fiske's memorandum. Fiske said the new troopers wouldn't bring the law enforcement costs for the weekend under $75,000.

After the discussion, both sides agreed to address the issue again in the coming weeks.

"I hope we're still friends," selectmen Chairman Roger Maxfield said.


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