My Family Had the Same NASCAR Tickets for 25 Years. Now Those Tickets No Longer Exist.
Our front-row seats are being replaced by “additional food experiences.”
In June 1990, New Hampshire International Speedway, the largest racetrack in New England, opened its gates for the first time. One month later, it held its inaugural NASCAR event, the Busch series Budweiser 300, and 10-year-old me was there thanks to my father and his excitement at a stock-car race finally occurring within driving distance of our home in southern Quebec. Three years after that, Winston Cup would make its debut at NHIS and we were still there—and in fact, our family would remain loyal attendees, hunkered down in the Turn 4 grandstands for two races each season, for the next quarter-century.
But no more. We just received notice from the track that after so many years of loyal patronage, our seats no longer exist. In fact, in an email bearing the title "New enhancements affecting your tickets," we were told that we needed to call the track as soon as possible. When we did, we found out the entire Turn 4 grandstand was being bulldozed.
Why did we pick Turn 4? It's always the best place at any oval event, with drivers fighting hard to make it out of the final corner of a lap and sprint for position at the finish line, an achievable goal for those who can get a good run on the car ahead of them. This is where the bumping, the sliding, and the sideways door-to-door jockeying for position gets real in a way that's much harder to see through the speed-scrubbing lens of a television camera. Our seats, in fact, were very near where the photo at the top of this article was taken (you can see how they already started covering sections with tarps to compress the crowd).
If you're sitting in the front row, like we did, seats in Turn 4 also see your face painted dull charcoal from flecks of rubber and other debris thrown up by 12-inch wide slicks grinding against an asphalt canvas over hundreds of full-throttle laps. You can try doing that in front of your 70-inch flat screen at home, but you're more likely to ruin your couch than recapture the visceral roar of three dozen 800-hp V-8s being caned in pursuit of a black and white flag.
Perhaps none of that matters to Bruton Smith's Speedway Motorsports, which bought the track from the Bahre family in 2007 and renamed it New Hampshire Motor Speedway. After wheeling and dealing to get a second race date, Smith saw attendance begin to drop at the end of the 2000s, an issue across the entire series as the on-track product became diluted, eventually transforming into high-speed no-passing parades—a far cry from the thrilling, drama-filled events of the previous decade.
In the past, NHMS hosted more than 100,000 spectators during NASCAR weekends, temporarily making it the largest city in the state (scraping past still-growing Manchester), but those days and the $180 million in tourist dollars they brought have faded into the rearview. The Turn 3 grandstands—hastily erected to sop up boom-time ticket sales—were demolished, slicing 20,000 seats from the equation. Then for 2018 the fall race date was shuffled off to Las Vegas Motor Speedway, leaving New Hampshire with a single, sparsely attended July event.
Perhaps I should have seen it coming. I can't recall the last time the track was full for Sunday's big show, and in recent years the number of empty spots on the sun-bleached aluminum benches vastly outnumbered the faithful few still showing up with their coolers and flags and brightly colored team T-shirts. It was maybe a third full, if that. There's no doubt that this postapocalyptic pastiche looks like hell on TV, and that major grandstand surgery would move a fair number of fans to the front-stretch and beef up appearances for the series sponsors watching from the comforts of their various hospitality suites.
That is, if those who've been displaced decide to stay. NASCAR's priorities have been made fairly clear, and they certainly don't include fans like us. The apologetic sales team on the phone offered us front-row accommodations in our choice of the main grandstands or in Turn 1, and then tried to sell us on how much we'd enjoy the "additional food experiences" that were taking the place of our old seats. (Hopefully the food comes without bits of tire.) This was just before they told us about the 25 percent price increase that would hit the following year.
A big screen and couch have never looked better.