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Racin’ crustacean: The story behind the living trophy given to the big winner at NHMS

  • Greg Makris reached into the tank, steadied himself, lifted the beast by its claws in the back of Makris Lobster & Steak House on Route 106 in Concord on Wednesday, July 18, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Greg Makris measures Loudon the Lobster in the back of Makris Lobster & Steak House on Route 106 in Concord on Wednesday, July 18, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Joey Logano, the 2014 winner of the Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, holds up Loudon the Lobster. The photo was on the wall at Makris™ Lobster & Steak restaurant on Route 106 in Concord. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Greg Makris olds up Loudon the Lobster at Makris Lobster & Steak House on Route 106 in Concord on Wednesday, July 18, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Greg Makris reached into the tank, steadied himself and lifted the beast by its claws in the back of Makris Lobster & Steak House on Route 106 in Concord on Wednesday, July 18, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Driver Denny Hamlin reacts as he is handed a lobster after winning the NASCAR Cup Series 301 auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, N.H., Sunday, July 16, 2017. AP file

Monitor staff
Published: 7/18/2018 7:08:28 PM

Greg Makris reached into the tank, steadied himself, lifted the beast by its claws and posed for a photo.

“This is Loudon,” the longtime restaurant owner told me. “He’s the heaviest.”

Makris grimaced slightly while holding the creature from the deep. It had dinner-plate-size claws. Its body stretched for nearly a yard – a football field’s length in the world of lobsters. Its antennae looked long enough to get good reception on an old TV.

Loudon the Lobster, who weighs 20 pounds, will be given to the winner of Sunday’s NASCAR race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. It’s the name given each year to the biggest and baddest lobster that Greg and Jimmy Makris can find, and it awaits its fate – dinner for a race team – in a big tank off the kitchen at Makris Lobster & Steak House.

Lots of big lobsters live there, but Loudon is the champ. Last July’s version, 22 pounds, scared the spark plugs out of Denny Hamlin.

The record is 26 pounds for a ritual that began about 10 years ago. While Loudon the town will be busy, attracting about 150,000 race fans starting Friday, Loudon the Lobster will be busy as well.

There are interviews with NBC, an autograph session with drivers Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski, an appearance at the pre-race drivers’ meeting and an introduction to Bruton Smith, owner of New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Smith is 91. Loudon could be just as old, maybe older. The two seniors will sit in Smith’s private suite during the race, Smith in a chair, Loudon in a cooler.

Then, after Loudon is presented to the driver on the main stage, he’ll be boiled and eaten, a feast for a later date.

“You just need a bigger pot,” Makris said.

Once, a Segway was given to the winning driver, but former track general manager Jerry Gappens searched for a new idea, one symbolic of New England and its unique personality.

“We’re one of the three states that relish in big lobsters,” Makris said. “It’s Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.”

And thus, a tradition was born. Texas Motor Speedway hands out a pair of six-shooters to the winner.

Here, it’s lobsterzilla. And like lobster, Makris and his brother, Jimmy, are New England all the way, and, more specifically, New Hampshire.

They once owned a restaurant/tavern downtown on Main Street before moving to their current spot, a short distance from Interstate 393.

Greg, 69, has been a local business owner for 44 years. He still has a full head of hair – now white – and his trademark mustache, plus an affable manner that has made him popular among drivers and team owners.

Their restaurant, in fact, has evolved into the track’s unofficial hot spot. Stop by this weekend and you might see Smith and several drivers and teams having dinner.

Jimmy Makris brought me into the office and showed me a photo of Dale Earnhardt Jr. during the former star’s visit. He said NASCAR people stop by after race weekend to bring lobsters home to North Carolina.

Then Jimmy said, “Look at the pair of mitts on that one.”

The candidates for heavyweight champion come from Canada, where softer regulations allow the capture of lobsters that are bigger and heavier than the ones caught off the shores of the Granite State or in the Gulf of Maine.

The Makris brothers are third-generation owners, doing business with the same fishermen up north for decades. The biggest lobsters come in during race week, and the giant among them is chosen.

Once the race is over, Loudon the Lobster is brought back to Greg and Jimmy’s restaurant, where it is cooked to Greg’s strict specifications.

“I never cook it over 25 minutes,” Makris told me. “You wait until it rises and floats, I don’t care if it’s 1 pound, 2 pounds or 20 pounds.”

We’re not sure exactly what Loudon’s age is. Greg estimated it could be high as 80. Other lobsters that size have lived past 100. For example, a New York lobster named George reached an estimated 140 years before a restaurant there released him into the Atlantic Ocean.

No such luck for Loudon. Lobster meat doesn’t get old or go bad. Once cooked, a Makris family friend who’s a taxidermist extracts the meat without ruining the shell.

The meat is frozen in a Makris freezer, and the brothers then wait for the speedway to notify them where to mail it. Meanwhile, the taxidermist pieces Loudon back together and paints him lobster color, good as new, sort of. Loudon is then mounted on a plaque for display at the speedway.

Winners receive the late Loudon version at the next scheduled race. For them, that’s the easy part.

The real fun comes shortly after the race, when fans get to see drivers’ reactions while holding the sea creatures, whose claws are secured with rubber bands, but who are very much alive.

“Joey Logano had no problem,” Greg said, “because he’s an East Coast guy. Jimmy Johnson was a little intimidated by Loudon, but drivers tell me they like it.”

Greg remembers the wives of the Busch brothers, Kyle and Kurt, trying to save Loudon in the years they won. First came Kurt, who agreed to donate Loudon to the New England Aquarium. Sadly, Loudon died shortly after arriving.

That taught the Makris boys a lesson, that Loudon would rarely survive a return to freedom once tank life had sapped him of his energy and adaptability.

“We made up our minds that the meat goes to the team,” Greg said. “Are we going to protect every cow in the world?”

And then there was Denny Hamlin, who won the feature race last July. Hamlin recoiled in fear as Loudon approached. He ran from the stage. And, according to a published report, he said:

“I’m not going to do anything with it. I’ve seen it and touched it for the last time. I have a lobster phobia. I just don’t like them. I can’t look at it. So as far as I’m concerned, they need to put it back in the water and let it live.”

Well, we know that will never happen – not again, not after the Kurt Busch experiment. Before entering the pot, however, Loudon will be treated like a celebrity, receiving VIP treatment, living the good life, at least for this weekend.

Or will he?

“This one may be topped by the end of the week,” Greg said. “We still have time for a bigger one.”

Beware, Denny.

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

Ray Duckler bio photo

Ray Duckler, our intrepid columnist, focuses on the Suncook Valley. He floats from topic to topic, searching for the humor or sadness or humanity in each subject. A native New Yorker, he loves the Yankees and Giants. The Red Sox and Patriots? Not so much.

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