New Hampshire Motor Speedway
New Hampshire's tricky mile-long oval at Loudon – known as the 'Magic Mile' – is the largest sporting venue in New England, playing regular host to NASCAR events each year.
The speedway is built on the site of the former Bryar Motorsports Park, a road course which was home to TransAm in the 1960s, NASCAR lower tier racing in 1970 and again in the 1980s but most prominently to AMA Superbike racing. A 5/8-mile paved oval on the site also became the home of the annual Laconia National Race (later known as the Laconia Classic and now the Loudon Classic).
Under the ownership of Bob Bahre the road course was demolished to make place for the current speedway, which was reconfigured with progressive banking in 2002. Today the circuit is owned by Speedway Motorsports Inc and, aside from stock cars on the oval, the road course sees regular club and track day action.
The present facility dates from 1990, but motor racing has been held on the site since the early 1960s. The story begins with an unlikely racing impresario: a tyre salesman and Baptist minister named Keith Bryar. Among his hobbies was dog sled racing and evidently he was quite the racer, even taking trips north to try his hand against the Alaskans. He kennelled his dogs on a parcel of land near Loudon, where he also ran a small amusement park, which included a merry-go-round, a kid's roller coaster and a go-kart track.
With a host of new small oval facilities springing up in the area, Bryar evidently decided this was something worth pursuing and soon he expanded the kart track, utilising its front straight and encircling the rest of the course with a clay oval. He surrounded the course with bleachers and opened the doors to what became known as 106 Midway Raceway.
By any measure, this odd little facility was a success; crowds were regularly in excess of 5,000 and races were heavily over-subscribed with sometimes as many as 60 competitors turning out. Heats had to be organised as the circuit could accommodate only 24 cars at a time.
A road course is born
By 1964, Keith decided to take the plunge and build a permanent road course on the site. Bryar Motorsports Park was born, the 1.6 mile road course being a short but exciting course which followed the contours of the hillside around a small lake. Once again there were excellent (for the time) spectator facilities, with bleachers overlooking the pits offering views of almost the whole course and seating 5,000. Another 2,000 seats were available at the northern end of the site and, in total, crowds of up to 18,000 could be accommodated.
It was not long before the new course began attracting some big name events and drivers; the SCCA Trans-Am cars paid a visit, with legendary tuner Bud Moore pitting his two Mustangs against Roger Penske's two AMC Javelins. George Follmer took the victory for Moore ahead of the Penske cars of Peter Revson and Mark Donohue. Parnelli Jones could only finish 13th in Moore's second car when the bonnet flew off on lap 62.
Later in 1970, NASCAR staged a Grand American Division race for the pony cars at the New Hampshire road course. That event was won by Buck Baker over NASCAR Modified star Max Berrier.
It was motorcycle racing that really put Bryar on the map; a paved 5/8 mile oval was added in 1968 and the circuit became the home of the Laconia National Race, later the Laconia Classic. Opening up the whole facility to allow fans to camp, a canopy of smoke could be seen for miles around when the event was on due to all the campfires.
Bob builds a speedway
By the mid-1980s, Bryar Motorsport Park was still a popular local venue, but a general lack of investment had meant the course condition had deteriorated somewhat and, by 1989, only motorcycles were using the venue. Enter Bob Bahre, who purchased the facility from the Bryars and announced plans for a new speedway – the first to be constructed in the USA since 1969. The new circuit – to be known as New Hampshire Motor Speedway – would feature a distinctive 1.058-mile four-turn oval.
Construction began in 1989 and was completed in nine months, with the new facility notable in being designed and constructed by the Bahres without consulting engineers. An additional road course extension was completed for use by the following year – this did not use any of the old Bryar course, though the Carousel curve did imitate part of the old track.
NASCAR made its debut at the track in July 1990, with a Busch Series race won by Tommy Ellis. For three years, the Busch Series hosted a pair of races at the track each year with other events including rounds of the IndyCar Series and the Laconia Classics, which continued to draw the crowds despite the new surroundings.
The success of the Busch Series races prompted NASCAR to add New Hampshire to the main Winston Cup schedule in 1993 and a second race came three years later when the Bahre and Bruton Smith jointly purchased North Wilkesboro Speedway and transferred its date to New Hampshire.
Banking reconfigured to aid racing
With its relatively flat turns (the original banking was 12 degrees in the turns, one degree on the straights), the course came in for criticism over the years from the drivers on the NASCAR tour, who regarded it as difficult to overtake and race cleanly on. However, recent changes have done a lot to silence the critics, and the NASCAR events have proved popular with fans. In 2002, in an effort to increase competitive racing, the track's corners were turned into a progressive banking system, as the apron was paved and became part of the track, and the track's banking was varied from four degrees in the lower two lanes to around seven degrees in the upper portion. The addition of SAFER barriers to the corner walls was made in 2003.
On November 2, 2007, Bruton Smith, founder, chairman and chief executive officer of Speedway Motorsports, Inc., agreed to purchase New Hampshire International Speedway from Bob and Gary Bahre. Closing documents were completed on January 11, 2008, finalising the purchase of the newly-renamed New Hampshire Motor Speedway (NHMS) and the remaining 50 percent stake in North Wilkesboro for $340 million.
Under Smith's ownership, NHMS made a heavy push to reintroduce open-wheel racing to the track, courting IndyCar heavily for a return to the schedules as early as 2009, though it wasn't until 2011 that the series returned to the track. Scheduled for 225 laps, the length of this race would be reduced to 215 laps due to rain. The race was actually restarted with 10 laps to go but because the track was still too wet to drive on, a multi-car crash caught out the likes of Will Power and Danica Patrick, causing fury among many competitors. Team boss Michael Andretti described it as "the worst officiating ever", saying the ran was in fact harder when they threw the green flag than on the original yellow. Will Power, whose championship lead was badly effected as a result, was particularly aggrieved, flipping the bird to race officials in the immediate aftermath.
Whatever the controversies, the race failed to meet attendance expectations and was dropped from the IndyCar schedules for 2012 and has not returned.
Bruton Smith had hoped to install lighting at the circuit to enable night races, however he was thwarted by a binding agreement with the town of Loudon and several neighbours that Bob Bahre had signed some years earlier when building the track. This banned night-time racing altogether and despite a poll of local residents which found 58 percent in favour of lighting the track, the prohibition remains in place.