FORT WORTH, Texas - Burton Smith said Friday that he has paid $340 million to buy New Hampshire International Speedway and its two Nextel Cup race dates. But he was sparse with details on what he plans to do with the track and those dates.
Parrying questions like a champion swordsman, he danced and dodged, ducked and demurred his way through the subsequent news conference.
How could the media let him get away with it? If you want a shot, come get some. Short of truth serum, I don’t know what else there was we could have done.
The burning issue is what this means, long term, for the 1-mile track that Bob and Gary Bahre sold. Almost everyone expects Smith to “re-align” one of those dates to Las Vegas, potentially setting off a shift to make Texas the first track in the Chase and adding Las Vegas later in each year’s 10-race playoff mix.
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That question was asked six ways to Sunday, but Smith never came close to answering it.
"I have no plans to move anything,” Smith said. Then, with virtually the same breath, he added: “(But) all of our plans are not in place.”
NASCAR chairman Brian France did have something concrete to say, issuing a statement that nothing will change for 2008, at least.
“All sanctions for 2008 have been signed and finalized,” France said. “As a result, there will be no location changes to the 2008 schedule. ... This is important to the fans, competitors, broadcast partners and sponsors who have made plans for the 2008 races.”
But it’s also important to fans in New England, who have supported what will come to be called New Hampshire Motor Speedway, to know what will happen in 2009 and beyond.
“Don’t be nervous,” Smith said when asked to address potential anxiety among that fan base. “... In buying speedways, we’ve always done some great things. I am expecting to do some great things in New Hampshire as well. ... We will make enough changes there that you will have to like some of them.”
Smith has made remarkable changes at Bristol, Atlanta, Las Vegas and Infineon, and he redid the track here twice at this $350 million showplace trying to get it right.
He’s contemplating big change of one kind or another at Lowe’s Motor Speedway, too – either spending millions to renovate it or building a whole new track as a result of a spat with the city of Concord over his plans to build a drag strip. Smith said Friday that his New Hampshire purchase doesn’t impact his decisions about the Charlotte move one way or another.
But Smith also bought Rockingham, harvested its date and shut it down. He also got a date when he bought 50 percent of North Wilkesboro. Bob Bahre had the other half of the defunct North Wilkesboro property, but that’s part of the deal announced Friday, too.
“I can announce today that I am the proud owner of 100 percent of North Wilkesboro,” Smith said. “I offered to give that to Bob for a Christmas present and he said, ‘Go to hell.’ ”
Chris Powell, the general manager of Smith’s track in Las Vegas, stood at the edge of the stage the whole time. After the news conference, Powell was surrounded by reporters and said he’d lobby to get a second race for his track each year.
I think he’ll get it, but I am not yet 100 percent convinced it will be at New Hampshire’s expense.
Atlanta had a lot of empty seats last week, and there haven’t been many of those in the years New Hampshire has hosted Cup races.
With the deal expected to close early next year, the 2008 races at New Hampshire would be held under Smith’s reign.
Will that be a new beginning, or the beginning of the end?