Loudon - the hardest place to race

 by Pete McCole
May 12, 2001

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Ask most NASCAR drivers which track is the toughest track to run, and you'll get a few different answers - Martinsville, a drag strip with turns; Bristol, like flying a jet fighter through a gymnasium; and Darlington, the track named "Too Tough To Tame".

And then, there's New Hampshire International Speedway.

A fast track, hard to pass, track position is everything is what drivers say, but not as tough as some. But now, as the NASCAR Busch Series rolls into Loudon this weekend, tragic memories from a year ago make New Hampshire International Speedway even tougher for those competing here. The thought on all the competitors' minds as they prepare for the CVS Pharmacy 200 this Saturday is safety after the tragic deaths of drivers Adam Petty and Kenny Irwin in separate crashes during practice here last year. 

Emphasizing how traumatic returning to Loudon is, five teams that were pre-entered for the CVS Pharmacy 200 withdrew before practice on started on Friday. The most notable team among those who declined to race was Todd Bodine's No. 00 Buckshot Racing Chevrolet, which won two events earlier this season. While the reasons for missing the race may be varied, some of the other drivers described the situation.

"First of all, we remember Adam Petty and Kenny Irwin," said David Green, driver of the #34 AFG Chevrolet. "I think that's going to be on all of our mind's the first time we pull in there and make a lap around the race track. NASCAR has done a lot of good things since last year and since the tragedy with Dale Earnhardt to make us more aware of what happened here and each one of us as drivers have stepped up to the plate to make things safer, so obviously that's on everyone's mind.

"Loudon is a great little race track, it's unfortunate that those situations happen, but it's a great track."

On Saturday, it will be back to business for these drivers, despite their heavy hearts.

"We got a sad heart, no doubt, going back there because we lost Adam (Petty) there." said Jeff Green, the defending Busch Series champion. "It's been a good race track for me, personally as a driver and for my race team. We actually been the best car there the last two years and got two 2nd's to show for it, so we're going to try to do at least as good or a little better." 

As difficult as it is to race at New Hampshire, it is even more difficult to win. 

"You got to qualify pretty good, track position is everything," said Jeff Green. "As good as the Goodyear tires are these days track position means everything. We need to qualify good, just stay out of trouble like always."

Kevin Lepage, filling in for Jimmy Spencer in the #1 Yellow Freight Chevrolet, knows Loudon very well. A veteran of the Busch North Series, Lepage is no stranger to New Hampshire International Speedway.

"I like the old track, I raced at the old track some 10 years ago." Lepage said, "It's a nice little race track, I wish they would have probably put a little more banking in it, really. It's kinda like a big Martinsville to me."

"Track position is so critical there. If you go back and look what happened at Bristol with Elliott Sadler, taking two tires on or no tires, stayed out and won the race, you can do that at Loudon."

"You have to have a car that turns real good, and you have to have a fast race car to get down the straightaways, you got to have some brakes." said driver David Green, the 1994 Busch Series Champion. " I think this year with the Busch cars have more horsepower, you're going to see brake more of an issue than ever before.

"We love to go up there, but probably the main thing that's going to be on our minds is the Petty family and the Irwin family, but I know they would want us to be up there racing and we'll get one for Adam and Kenny." 

The author can be contacted at dougb@autoracing1.com

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