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The New Hampshire Motor Speedway is the largest sports facility in all of the New England six-state area but it is located in one of the region’s smallest towns.
New Hampshire isn’t exactly known for its big cities but and this is especially true when you narrow it down to a town like Loudon. The population is only about 6,000 and there are no nearby major professional or even collegiate-level sports teams.
But as fate would have it, in 1989 Loudon was chosen as the home for the New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Hard to imagine, really, when you consider that the venue literally has enough seating to fit the town’s entire population into the speedway fourteen times over.
In this article we’ll explore the past, present and future of the New Hampshire Motor Speedway including key stats, facts and lots more.
Loudon might be small but when you consider the surrounding area, the numbers start to make sense. Nearly 18 million people live within a 200-mile radius of the track and the New England sports market is thriving, to say the least.
Being the only NASCAR venue in the large six-state region of New England means absolutely massive crowds. The track NASCAR Cup Series and Xfinity Series (and previously Truck Series) races as well as plenty of other non-NASCAR racing league events.
The venue was proud to host two Cup Series races annually from 1997 to 2017 but the second race was relocated to Las Vegas in 2018.
Race fans in the area were relieved when the slot was soon filled with the newly-formed Full Throttle Fall Weekend which comprised races from NASCAR K&E Pro Series East, NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, and the Canadian NASCAR Pinty’s Series.
From the very start, this track made size and the ability to reconfigure multiple track arrangements a big priority.
Infamously the management hired only one surveyor and no consulting engineers when designing and building on the plot.
Off the hop, the speedway hosted two Busch Series weekends with the inaugural race won by driver Tommy Ellis. The initial success of those races led NASCAR to add a Cup Series race to New Hampshire’s schedule in 1993 which would start out as the Slick 50 300.
In 1997 a second Cup Series race was introduced to the line-up and it would act as the first race in the NASCAR Chase for the Championship playoffs. This second date would last until 2017 before officials moved the race to Las Vegas.
In 2002 the track was repaved and the banking was adjusted. Just a year after that the speedway was the scene of the historic moment that ultimately would change the rules of NASCAR forever.
During that year’s Sylvania 300, Dale Jarrett crashed and stalled near the finish line which raised the caution flag. With the flag raised, drivers who were a lap or more down would race back to the start in an attempt to pass the leader and earn back a lap.
At the time this was a legal move but the problem was that Jarrett’s car was still on the track and completely vulnerable to oncoming traffic. Fortunately, Jarrett was able to avoid any collisions but the situation was enough to force NASCAR to amend its caution flag rules.
In the very next race, it became illegal to “race back” and cars were forced to freeze during a caution with the first car not on the lead lap earning a “free pass” of an extra lap earned.
This “free pass” rule also went on to be known as the Lucky Dog rule.
From 2009 – 2011, new management made a push to introduce open-wheel racing at the speedway. Low attendance numbers and questionable race rulings brought the experiment to an end, however.
That same management team wanted to implement a brand new lighting system to the venue for night racing but the original legal contracts made with the country had prohibited adding lights.
However, they did a consensus poll with residents and received a 58% approval response. The same poll also showed that locals were in favor of adding a casino at the track if the state would pass the necessary legislation.
With the 2018 repeal of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, the town may eventually get their wish.
Race fans have a lot to look forward to at Loudon besides just NASCAR events.
Aside from the main event top-billing NASCAR weekends, the track also holds monthly race weekends that include the Loudon Road Race Series, U.S. Legend Cars, International Legends, and youth level bandolero karting events.
They even have racing schools where aspiring young drivers come to learn from experienced professionals from the Rusty Wallace Driving Experience and NASCAR Racing Experience.
For those who wish to master motorcycle racing, the venue also has instructors from the infamous Penguin Riding School
There were two tragic fatal crashes at the track in the spring and summer of 2000. Adam Petty fatally crashed in a Busch Series practice run on May 12th and Kenny Irwin Jr. also died on a practice run on July 7th in preparation for that weekend’s Cup Series race.
Following the second crash, NASCAR officials decided to implement a speed restriction device called a restrictor plate for the next Cup Series race at the speedway which happened to be the Dura Lube 300. The track suddenly had the dubious distinction of joining Talladega and Daytona as the only NASCAR tracks to require restrictor plates on vehicles.
The restrictor plates, which were already used in NASCAR’s Whelen Modified Tour races, did what the officials hoped they would do. They slowed down the cars and drastically reduced crashes and pile-ups. Unfortunately, they also made it extremely difficult to pass and Jeff Burton led for the entire 300 lap race. That hasn’t happened in NASCAR since the 70s.
This didn’t sit well with fans either and for the very next Cup Series race, the New England 300, the restrictor plates were taken back off.
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