After 20 years of racing, Loudon is losing one of its biggest economic engines.
Track owners announced this week that the annual September NASCAR event held at New Hampshire Motor Speedway will be relocated to Las Vegas. The town will still host a mid-summer race, but local businesses are bracing for the impact.
The Egg Shell Restaurant on Route 106 in Loudon serves up plenty of omelets and pancakes, even when there isn’t a big race in town. Bob Wilcox says the food here is surprisingly good. But the news that Loudon is losing its September race?
“It is very bad," he says. "It could be catastrophic for a small town.”
At the track's peak, more than 90,000 fans would flood Loudon on race weekends to watch stock cars circle the 1.058-mile oval.
But NASCAR’s popularity is sagging nationally. Television ratings are down, and tracks are struggling to sell tickets.
“If you watch the races on the weekend, you’ll see that most every place in the country is having difficulty filling the stands,” says Loudon resident Dick Wright. “And this is a small community, it is difficult to draw a lot of people into this area.”
A 2011 study by Southern New Hampshire University estimated that the two NASCAR race weekends generated $180 million annually for the state’s economy. A small portion of that traditionally goes to Susan Gelinas, who sells parking spots on her property.
“Usually its $10; It’s not that expensive,” she says. “We live about a quarter mile from the track.”
Besides the loss of some of that extra income, Gelinas says there’s also a bit of bruised pride.
“My kids are going to be very disappointed that there won’t be having the two races," she says. "My youngest is a big Kyle Busch fan.”
The parent company of the New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Speedway Motor Sports, Inc. also owns a track in Las Vegas. That city’s tourism agency reportedly offered up a multi-million dollar sponsorship arrangement to move the September race, and this week, the deal was signed. But David McGrath, general manager of the Loudon facility, reiterated during a press conference that there still is NASCAR in New Hampshire.
Don’t forget, we still have a July race. It will be here for a long time,” he says. “We will work as a team to make that race bigger and better than it has ever been. But more importantly, we are not going to stop there.”
McGrath says the track will look to bring in other types of racing, and potentially big-name musical acts or festivals to round out the calendar, although that’s something the town of Loudon has traditionally opposed.
“With change comes opportunity,” says McGrath. “And there are going to be more opportunities that we bring to this speedway and the 1,200 acres it represents.”
A few miles down Route 106 from the track, Sonny Shah helps run the Quality Inn. He says they’ve got 69 rooms, and on race weekends: “Sold out, every single one of them.”
But Shah is optimistic that the track will figure out new ways to bring people to Loudon.
“It is going to hurt the business, we are sure for that," he says. "But we can cover it up. It will be okay.”
And Shah points out that the move won’t take place until 2018. This year, there are still two big race weekends to make money off of.