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With September NASCAR race gone, NHMS tries to attract more fans to July event

  • Sisters Brenda Lucas (left) and Joanne Bertrand, who came to camp out days before the first race at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, share their thoughts and feelings on only having one race weekend this year on Thursday, July 19, 2018. Maddie Vanderpool—Concord Monitor

  • Thursday, July 19, 2018, Brittany Szur talks about how the September race moving will affect the specialty cars at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon.  Maddie Vanderpool—Concord Monitor

  • Lonnie Wagner of Manchester shares his thoughts and feelings on only having one race weekend this year on Thursday, July 19, 2018. Maddie Vanderpool—Concord Monitor

  • Joe Andrews (left) and his son, Ryan, of Branford, Conn., share their thoughts and feelings on only having one race weekend this year on Thursday, July 19, 2018. Maddie Vanderpool—Concord Monitor

  • NASCAR fan Brenda Lucas sits at her campsite at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon on Thursday.

  • John Krouse (right) and his son, Trevor, of Gorham, Maine, have come to camp out days before the first race at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon share their thoughts and feelings on only having one race weekend this year on Thursday, July 19, 2018. Trevor, 12, races go-karts in Maine. Maddie Vanderpool—Concord Monitor

  • Joe Andrews (left) and his son, Ryan, of Branford, Conn., share their thoughts and feelings on only having one race weekend this year on Thursday, July 19, 2018. Maddie Vanderpool—Concord Monitor

  • A racer himself, Trevor Krouse, 12, came to camp out days before the first race from Maine at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon talks about his favorite racers and why he likes them on Thursday, July 19, 2018. Maddie Vanderpool—Concord Monitor

  • On Friday, July 20, 2018, the RV lots at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon fill up as campers and RVs owned by local and out of state race fans arrive for race weekend. Maddie Vanderpool—Concord Monitor

  • The RV lots at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon fill up Thursday as race weekend nears. Sunday’s Cup Series is slated to go green at 2 p.m. Maddie Vanderpool / Monitor staff

  • On Friday, July 20, 2018, the RV lots at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon fill up as campers and RVs owned by local and out of state race fans arrive for race weekend. Maddie Vanderpool—Concord Monitor

  • On Friday, July 20, 2018, the RV lots at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon fill up as campers and RVs owned by local and out of state race fans arrive for race weekend. Maddie Vanderpool—Concord Monitor

  • On Friday, July 20, 2018, the RV lots at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon fill up as campers and RVs owned by local and out of state race fans arrive for race weekend. Maddie Vanderpool—Concord Monitor

  • Steven (left) and Alan Koslowski enjoy the sun at their campsite at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon on Friday. Race fans in the region are adjusting to Speedway Motorsports, Inc.’s decision last year to eliminate one of the track’s NASCAR Cup series races. Maddie Vanderpool photos / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 7/20/2018 6:45:06 PM

Brenda Lucas is a diehard NASCAR fan, and her loyalty isn’t exclusive to Sunday afternoon races.

When the Cup drivers get on the track for practice laps on Fridays and Saturdays, no matter where in the country they are racing that week, Lucas has her television on and keeps an eye on her favorite drivers: Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick. 

For 12 years, Lucas and her husband, Joe, have been making the trip from Westfield, Mass., to New Hampshire Motor Speedway for the annual September race. But that trip is no longer an option since Speedway Motorsports, Inc., which owns NHMS and seven other tracks on the NASCAR circuit, announced last year that Loudon’s fall race is shifting to its sister track in Las Vegas beginning this season.

“I was devastated,” Lucas said Thursday, sitting next to her sister, Joanne Bertrand, outside their camper on the NHMS grounds. Bertrand, a first-time visitor to NHMS, said her sister even considered giving up the tradition altogether.

The speedway is trying to retain September regulars like Lucas and shift their habits to becoming July attendees.

NHMS Executive Vice President and General Manager David McGrath and his staff have spent the last year combing through data week-by-week to see how their ticket sales for the July race match up with last summer’s event. He says the numbers are positive, an uptick of about 4 percent.

The data also showed that while many racing fans attend both races, the two dates largely attract different crowds.

“We have really mined the data from our September database to get those fans to buy a ticket to the July race,” McGrath said. “That’s been successful, but there’s still room to grow. We’re not where we’d like to be. It’s still a significant windfall that we could gain back, those that bought September for many, many years.”

McGrath said the speedway has reached out directly to many of its September regulars with phone calls and emails.

Their advertising campaign is also directed toward the September fans, emphasizing that this is their only chance to watch NASCAR’s top division race in New Hampshire. Newspaper print ads jump off the page telling readers “DON’T MISS NEW ENGLAND’S ONLY RACE!”

“What I would say to a fan that has their heels dug in against the July race is ‘don’t let your one chance to be here, to see the stars of the sport, 40 of the best drivers in the world, the highest level of this sport, your one time of year, don’t miss that opportunity,’ ” McGrath said. “As great as television coverage is, and as great as the online capabilities of our sport are today, you get one shot now to have them in your backyard.”

The sport has seen a drop in live attendance across all of its tracks over the last several years. A look at the stands on Sundays makes that fact clear. The grandstands used to hold 94,000 spectators. After the seats on the north end of the track, near turns 3 and 4, were removed, the capacity dropped to 74,000.

Lucas has noticed the depleting crowds from her seat and in the ticket-buying process.

“When I first tried to get tickets here, I couldn’t get tickets,” Lucas said. “They were sold out. It was like you had to wait for someone to die. Now they’re giving you breaks on tickets and stuff. I’ve definitely noticed a big difference, especially in the crowds. Last year there was nobody around me and my husband. We probably had six open seats on either side of us. That’s never happened before.”

The track has responded to this change by adding new features around the property, including hospitality tents and wait service in certain sections of the grandstands.

Camping is the main attraction for Lucas and Bertrand, and this is their first year trying it out. Lucas said she usually drives up on Saturdays and Sundays to tailgate, but now she’s thinking about getting her own camper.

“We thought we’d give July a try,” Lucas said. “I just love racing and coming for the races. I love the camping part of it. It’s been an exceptional experience. The staff is very friendly – they’ll come around and check if you need anything.”

That is the kind of review McGrath is hoping to hear from fans this weekend. He’s optimistic about the future and bringing more September fans to the track in July, but that may take time.

“I believe in my heart, because I’ve seen it at other speedways, it takes a little bit of time but you can create more momentum with the one race,” he said. “Unfortunately, it’s not like flipping a switch. I’d like it to be, but it’s not.”

(Nick Stoico can be reached at nsotico@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @NickStoico.)


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