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LOUDON, N.H. (AP) — The general manager of New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Thursday urged fans and small businesses to give him time to fill in the gaps now that one of its two NASCAR races is moving to Las Vegas.
New Hampshire has hosted two top-tier NASCAR races a year for two decades, traditionally in July and September. But Las Vegas officials on Wednesday approved a sponsorship agreement with Speedway Motorsports Inc. to shift the September race to Nevada in 2018.
David McGrath, executive vice president and general manager of the New Hampshire track, said Thursday that the July race will be bigger and better, and the track will explore new opportunities for other months, such as music festivals. He described hearing from fans and even an old high school friend who described the news as a "gut punch."
"I'm right there with them. I care about them, and I understand this is disruptive. But this is going to get better," he said. "Give me some time. Let me show you what we're capable of as a team. We understand the angst. We understand there were two races now there's one. Let us make this great. Don't turn your backs on us. Let's work together."
At its peak, the September race attracted more than 90,000 fans. McGrath declined to provide recent statistics, but said attendance has dropped in recent years, as it has elsewhere across the country. But he said the drop in attendance was not the reason for the shift. Instead, Las Vegas made the company an offer it couldn't refuse, he said.
"The wheels aren't coming off the wagon at New Hampshire Motor Speedway with attendance," he said. "That really was not any point in this decision."
The track has been a key player in the state's tourism industry. According to a 2011 Southern New Hampshire University study, the two Sprint Cup races at NHMS added $179 million in spending and $103 million in income, and generated 2,500 jobs - including 1,500 part-time jobs at NHMS.
One only has to see all the campers up and down Interstate 93 in the days before and after the race to know that many fans make a week out of it, said Mike Somers, executive director of the New Hampshire Lodging and Restaurant Association.
"While it's only a long weekend, it brings a lot of visitors to New Hampshire. They buy a lot, whether it's from the state liquor stores or the gas stations or restaurants. Hotels are sold out for miles around the track," he said. "It's certainly going to have an impact."
Somers said it remains to be seen whether the lost revenue can be made up.
"Let's face it. We're a drive-in tourism economy here in New Hampshire, and to lose that (race) is certainly a blow," he said. "The question will be what can we do collectively as a state and in partnership with the track to figure out a way to roll with the punches."
Gov. Chris Sununu said that he was disappointed by the news but that the speedway will remain a premier event venue for the state.
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