LOUDON, N.H. — Ken Torrey has been coming here twice a year since 1999, and bringing his family of six for the last four years. So when their home track announced it would hold the inaugural “Full Throttle Weekend” this fall, he and his son Jacob didn’t hesitate.
“We’re going,” the Middlebury, Vt., residents said.
Like many longtime fans, the Torreys were disappointed to see New Hampshire Motor Speedway lose its fall race date on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule this year as part of a series-wide shakeup. So the track’s decision not to retreat, but instead double down with two days of grassroots racing on the former Cup weekend, excited them.
“It was sad to lose our Cup date,” Torrey said after Jacob had collected roughly 50 signatures Saturday in a seemingly endless prerace autograph line featuring drivers from three series. “But this was something we weren’t going to miss.”
Nationally, NASCAR is associated with the South, but New England’s asphalt racing roots run deep. Short tracks pepper the map from Connecticut to Maine, with many hosting the pinnacle of touring racing in the Northeast, the Whelen Modified Tour.
So with Cup departed, the modifieds became the headliner at NHMS. The Musket 250, boasting the largest purse ($186,000) and longest distance (264.5 miles) in series history, capped off a tripleheader that included the Pinty’s Canadian series’ first event held in the U.S. and another race combining racers from the K&N Pro Series’ East and West divisions.
For track general manager David McGrath, there was never a doubt NHMS would host something in its former Cup weekend.
“We’re a racetrack,” McGrath said from victory lane, where Chase Dowling celebrated after surviving a late wreckfest to claim his first win. “We were always going to create a race.”
NASCAR confirmed in March 2017 that it would remove New Hampshire’s fall race. Shortly after, track management met with parent company Speedway Motorsports Inc.’s leadership, including executive chairman Bruton Smith, CEO Marcus Smith and chief racing development officer Don Hawk. The idea for a modifieds main event took hold right away.
The other thing they realized: As successful as collaborative Cup weekends have been, the absence of the national series gave the track greater flexibility.
So they opened the garage to fans, moved the midway-type FanZone to the infield and increased access to drivers — all amenities that normally are limited by the size and scope of the Cup series. Fans responded by booking more than 800 RV sites on the grounds, and while McGrath didn’t have exact numbers Saturday night, he said “ticket sales were strong.”
If anything, fans interviewed before the race wanted even more. Jesse Jaillet, of Rutland, Mass., who camped out from Thursday to Sunday with his wife, Michele, and children Joe, 7, and Amanda, 6, said their fellow campers were most disappointed at the shortage of merchandise vendors.
“People want to spend their money!” he said.
Shopping options aside, though, the weekend enabled the Jaillets to continue a fall family tradition.
“We’re glad there was still an event we could bring the kids to, because they really look forward to coming in September,” Jesse Jaillet said. “They love the FanZone, they love the racing, they love camping, they love everything.”
McGrath admitted that there were things that might be improved for the future, but the very fact that he sounded so confident there will indeed be a future for tripleheader bodes well for fans who took in the inaugural event.
“I think there’s a lot of things we’ll do differently and there’s some things we’ll learn,” McGrath said. “But I think, overall, this was a raving success. This will be around. Once we all get in Monday morning, we’ll start making plans for 2019.”
Thumbnail photo via Adam Glanzman/NASCAR