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IndyCar returning to New Hampshire - to look bad UPDATE #3 This rumor is upgraded to 'fact' with today's announcement.

06/23/10 For those who attended the IRL race at what was then New Hampshire International Speedway in 1997, The race was fantastic. Unfortunately, there were virtually no fans there to receive it.  Fans who supported CART during the split will no doubt recall that their favorite series drew fine crowds at New Hampshire, at first, but then they dwindled and CART dropped the track.

Can this product draw a respectable crowd at a facility that has added capacity to accommodate NASCAR Cup?  And let's not forget that racing is a tough sell in New England.  When you have to sell so many tickets to fill the grandstands for the two NASCAR Cup races it has, the race fans in this area are not going to also be willing to buy IndyCar tickets in large numbers.

Having seen the market breakdown for the Indianapolis 500 television ratings, we can tell you that the three local markets that had the lowest ratings were Boston, Providence and New York. Yes, there are racing fans in New England, but they tend to like NASCAR, Modifieds and the like. Will they want to watch the IndyCar product at New Hampshire Motor Speedway? 

Most of the massive New Hampshire grandstand seats will be empty when the IRL returns
We doubt IndyCar has really done their homework on returning to New Hampshire, instead making a decision based on the flawed notion that IndyCar must return to its short oval roots to be successful.  Do we need to list for you all the oval track races that the IRL had to deep-six because very few bothered to show up (including this one)?  As a racing outsider, Randy Bernard does not know or understand what has failed for CART and IndyCar (and will fail again) and instead is making the same mistake Tony George made - listening to people around him who wear rose colored glasses, instead of making decisions based on factual data.

06/22/10 Randy Bernard, the IRL’s new chief executive officer, could not be reached for comment yesterday, but a league source indicated an announcement would be made Sunday in conjunction with the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at NHMS, the Lenox Industrial Tools 301. The IRL will be adding another major market to its 17-race schedule; it announced earlier this year a race in Baltimore in 2011.

Jerry Gappens, NHMS executive vice president and general manager, said yesterday he and track owner Bruton Smith, chairman of Speedway Motorsports Inc., had talked with Bernard about bringing the open-wheel series back to New Hampshire for the first time since 1998.

“I’m pleased through the new leadership that Randy’s providing he’s opened the dialogue, and I think we’re going to bring it home,’’ Gappens said. “Right now, we’re trying to cross the t’s and dot the i’s, but we feel really positive about it. It should add a third major weekend of racing to our schedule.’’

The IRL parted ways with New Hampshire following the ’98 season after then track owner Bob Bahre, who was the first to align himself with the fledgling league Tony George founded in 1995, became increasingly disenchanted with declining revenue and attendance of the four IRL events he hosted at his 1.058-mile oval from 1996-98.

Bahre wound up replacing the IRL date with a second, more lucrative NASCAR date after he acquired half of North Wilkesboro Speedway and split its two NASCAR dates with Smith (who eventually bought NHMS from Bahre in 2007).

At the heart of the split between Bahre and the IRL was the lack of promotion — by either party — of open-wheel racing at New Hampshire. At the time, the IRL was in the midst of a major struggle to gain market share following its nasty split from Championship Auto Racing Teams, the first series to sanction a major event at NHMS in 1992.

“Bob just got frustrated with it,’’ Gappens said about the CART-IRL split. “It was right about the time he got his second NASCAR date and he was happy to focus on the two Cup events and the revenue it brought.’’

When Gappens was installed as the track’s vice president and general manager, the native of Indiana who had a great appreciation for open-wheel racing and IndyCar racing, in particular, approached the IRL three years ago about adding NHMS to the schedule after IRL’s reunification with CART, but he was turned down.

“They were still putting a lot of the pieces of the puzzle together after reunification,’’ Gappens said. “In fairness to them, they were trying to take two schedules and merge them into one, so I better understood what they were trying to do.’’

When Bernard, the former CEO of Professional Bull Riders Inc., was hired March 1 as the IRL’s CEO, it was his mission to help grow the sport through better marketing and promotion.

“Randy is trying to balance the schedule with ovals and road courses,’’ Gappens said. “He wants to have a good bond with the [Speedway Motorsports Inc.] facilities and he appreciates how we promote [races] in the SMI family.

“Our livelihood depends on promoting auto racing, and he realizes he needs the same type of attention we give NASCAR. If we can do that, I think we’ll have a great chance to succeed.’’

06/20/10 The hot news recently out of New Hampshire Motor Speedway has been that the track could be in danger of losing one of its two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series events in the wake of a dispute with local government officials.

Now it looks as if New Hampshire Motor Speedway will be adding a new major event to its schedule in 2011. The Indianapolis Star is reporting that the Izod IndyCar Series will return to the 1.058-mile oval next season.

New Hampshire was one of the tracks on the first IndyCar Series schedule in 1996. The division last raced at the Loudon, N.H. facility in 1998 in front of a dismal crowd that made the series look like complete losers.  History is about to be repeated.  Some people just don't learn. zzzz

The Indianapolis Star story reports that the race will be held the weekend of July 30-31, 2011. Officials from Speedway Motorsports Inc., the company that bought the track from Bob Bahre in January 2008, have been trying to get the IndyCar Series back in Loudon since purchasing the facility.

New Hampshire Motor Speedway executive vice president and general manager Jerry Gappens was unavailable for comment Sunday evening. A formal announcement concerning the addition of the event to the schedule is expected at some point this coming weekend. New Hampshire Motor Speedway hosts the Sprint Cup Series Lenox Industrial Tools 301 weekend Thursday through Sunday.

Recent Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti will reportedly turn laps at speed on the New Hampshire Motor Speedway oval in an IndyCar series car before the running of Sunday's Lenox Industrial Tools 301.

The addition of the event could likely mean the addition of a third event at the track for the Whelen Modified Tour.

The former CART ChampCar World Series competed at New Hampshire Motor Speedway from 1992 through 1995. Bobby Rahal, Nigel Mansell, Al Unser Jr. and Andre Ribeiro won ChampCar events at the track.

The IndyCar Series held three events at the track from 1996-1998 with current Sprint Cup Series start Tony Stewart winning the last event at the track on June 28, 1998. Norwalk native Scott Sharp won the IndyCar Series event at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 1996 and Robbie Buhl won in 1997.

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