If approved, move would likely occur in 2015
LOUDON, N.H. – New Hampshire Motor Speedway officials are interested in moving the track's July NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race under the lights, according to Executive Vice President and General Manager Jerry Gappens.
The one-mile track, which debuted on the NASCAR calendar in 1990 with two Nationwide Series events, has been hosting Sprint Cup Series races since 1993. The track has held two Sprint Cup Series races a season since 1997. Sunday's Sylvania 300 is the 28th Cup race of the season, and stop No. 2 for the Chase for the Sprint Cup. It is scheduled for a 2 p.m. ET start.
"We do a lot with our fans; I'm all over this place during race week interacting with fans and … that is the feedback I've gotten," Gappens said Saturday at NHMS. "I've learned one thing, New Englanders don't like 90-95 degree heat and high humidity. And I'm seeing the (ticket) numbers reflect that in renewals for July. I get letters (and) a lot of people who say they had their father or their parents with them and it was just too hot (in July)."
The track currently does not have lights in place to accommodate night races. Gappens said before pursuing the matter any further, which would include receiving approval from local authorities, he wanted to put the idea in front of NASCAR officials.
"They're working on sanctioning agreements and scheduling (for 2014)," he said. "But before I take any steps at this point, I want to make sure NASCAR is in agreement and our TV partners (are aware), because you've got a broadcast schedule also (that has to be considered).
"I thought maybe if we couldn't do it for 2014, maybe 2015 when the new TV contracts start -- because then Fox will be our partner instead of TNT, if that makes a difference. But get it out there."
Steve O'Donnell, vice president of racing operations for the sanctioning body, said via email that the 2014 schedule will be announced "once all the sanctioning agreements are complete."
Nine of this year's 36 points races were scheduled to be run under the lights (not including the June race at Kentucky Speedway, which was washed out on a Saturday night and run the following Sunday in the afternoon). Two non-points events -- the Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway and Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway -- also had nighttime starts.
Next year's Budweiser Duel at Daytona, twin 150-mile qualifying races that will help determine the starting lineup for the season-opening Daytona 500, is scheduled for Feb. 20 and will be run under the lights for the first time.
If NASCAR approves the NHMS move, Gappens would need to gain approval from local authorities because the original agreement when the track was built included a stipulation -- the result of a lawsuit -- that no races would be held at night.
"If you think about it, back in 1989-90 (when the track was built), night racing wasn't as popular as it is today," he said. "So Bob (Bahre, track founder) probably didn't feel like he was making a big concession when he agreed to that.
"Now, some 25 years later, I think the speedway has been a great community partner. ... I'm in process of trying to navigate through that restriction. The town is supportive of the speedway in Loudon but it's in our deed that we can't do that. And the town obviously doesn't want to re-open the lawsuit and have to defend itself. So we just have to navigate our way through ... we have a couple of approaches that we are working on."
Gappens said it was likely that the move to racing under the lights, should it be approved, would take place in 2015.
"I don't think it's going to happen for '14," he said.