The Chrome Horn News


by Walt Stubbs

    I’ve often been asked why I would make a five hour trip in the month of December up to New Hampshire just to attend the Christmas/Awards banquet that the track holds every year at the Holiday Inn in Concord. I’ve always maintained that despite the good food and spirits provided, it’s all about seeing the people before the holiday season and off season kicks into gear. Even Bob Bahre, he of the quit wit, couldn’t understand why I would come to a party in New Hampshire all the way from New Jersey.
    This year was a little different based on the fact that the Bahre’s recently sold New Hampshire to Bruton Smith. Because of that, this year’s Holiday Party/banquet would be the last that Bahre would host as the track owner. With that, much speculation has been made of what not only will happen to the party, but what changes would occur at the track itself. In speaking with both Bahre and Gerry Gappens, the new track manager, it has become quite clear that not too many changes are on the horizon. Bahre advised that he will still be a consultant and will be helping with the transition, which will be for at least two years. He even quipped that “he will be cooking burgers in the concession stand if need be.” Gappens advised that Smith sees a bright future and wants to expand on the success that Bahre brought to New Hampshire. He compared the purchase of New Hampshire to that of Bristol, which Smith bought many years ago when people questioned the future of a ½ mile track located in a remote area on the Virginia/Tennessee border. Gappens also noted that despite the rumors of the track losing one of its Cup events, he doesn’t see that happening. As he remarked, “Why would we take away a race at a track that sells out when there are other tracks on the circuit that can’t sell out?’ A fair question indeed, especially when you consider that the New England market is one of the bigger markets that the Cup goes to. A fairer question would be could New Hampshire lose one of its dates, say to Las Vegas, and then get another date at the expense of another Bruton Smith owned track, say Atlanta, which doesn’t sell out? I guess time will tell on that front. Of course, the Busch East and the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour are more concerned with the future of there own divisions at the newly named New Hampshire Motor Speedway. While nothing is etched in stone beyond next year, the track will listen to all suggestions on ways to make not only the Cup race a better attraction, but those divisions as well.
    Joey Logano and Donny Lia were both crowned track champions at New Hampshire and while Logano could not make the festivities, Lia was on hand, despite a brutal commute from his home in Long Island. It was an eventful and busy few days for Lia, who would be crowned Modified Champion two days later at the Mohegan Sun in Connecticut. At New Hampshire, Lia was a graceful champion and remembered John Blewett III, who Lia acknowledged, “knew this track better than anybody.” That would be true as Blewett was the only four time champion at the track as well as being the defending champion. Beside Lia, the other two top modified finishers were on hand, Todd Szegedy and Ronnie Silk. Szegedy discussed the recent spec engine test that took place at Concord and Stafford and admitted he was quite surprised at the results. “It went better than I expected,” said Szegedy. “I thought the engine would be much slower than the ones we run now. And while I was doing the laps, it did feel much slower but when they told me the times, it wasn’t far off from what the motors we are now running.” The engine will be legal to run next year and is a cost saver, the hope that some teams that can’t afford the current motors, will have the spec as an alternative and still be competitive.
    After a brief return to New Jersey on Thursday, it was back up I95 on Friday for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour banquet where Donny Lia was crowned champion. Lia came into his own this past year, something both he and his car owner, Bob Garbarino, reflected on during there speeches. Lia even remarked that most in the room never would have predicted that he would be the one standing at the podium as champion. It was a special moment for both Lia and Garbarino, who finally got his long coveted championship after many years trying. Even NASCAR gave special knowledge to one of its long time loyal owners by giving a special, redone Owner’s Champion trophy. Hoosier even gave Garbarino a jacket, something that only the champion driver would normally get. All in all, it was a special night that neither Lia or Joan and Bob Garbarino will forget.
    You have to hand it to NASCAR. There has been much speculation in recent weeks about the future of its oldest division, especially from us folks in the media. And lo and behold, as NASCAR has been known to do, they came out at the banquet and announced that Whelen will be staying on as Series sponsor until 2016. While the announcement was nice to see, my question is why NASCAR always reacts versus being proactive? They’ve done it in years past, be it concerning the schedule, television, or Flash races. Can there ever be a time where assurances and the like our done before the actual banquet? It seems that announcing these type of things at the banquet takes away some of the limelight that should be reserved for the championship driver, team and car owner. And while the announcement was great to hear, it doesn’t necessarily guarantee a Tour in 2016. It just means that if there is a Tour in 2016, Whelen will be a part of it. Lets hope NASCAR does more for the Tour, such as television, PR, etc so the Tour can continue to grow.
    Kudos should go to NASCAR and Whelen for honoring its past champions at the banquet. All the living past champions were invited to take part and most did, except for Frankie Schneider, who was fogged in at Allentown Airport and couldn’t get a flight to Connecticut, and Jimmie Spencer. It was rather humorous that all past living and those no longer alive were mentioned by name except for Spencer. Word is that Spencer did not accept NASCAR’s invitation because of a travel issue. The question is should that slight be enough for him to not even be mentioned? It was great to see drivers such as Bobby Allison and Bugs Stevens on hand taking in the festivities. Even the bartenders were enamored with Allison, as he was the only person I saw who was able to coax a drink at the bar after it was closed after the cocktail hour and before dinner.
    Going into the banquet, there was much discussion that the schedule wouldn’t be released. Those rumors proved to be false as NASCAR did release its 2008 schedule. The one surprise was the absence of Indianapolis, long thought to be on the schedule, and having Mansfield back on the schedule. New additions include Chemung on October 4th and Spencer on July 12th. Martinsville has been moved to September 21st. My problem is that out of the 16 races on the schedule, nine are at either Stafford or Thompson. The Whelen Southern Modified Tour also announced there 13 race schedule. The new addition to that Tour is Lanier National Speedway in Georgia.

    BANQUET NOTES: As most know who have ever attended a banquet, it can get long and tedious. Jimmy Blewett tried to liven things up a bit by “goosing” Mike Joy. As Blewett remarked much later, “The evening needed a little lightening up.” Blewett might have been referring to the video rehashing those that passed away in the last year from the NASCAR family, including Jimmy’s brother John and Bill France Jr among others. A nice gesture from Whelen in giving all of those who finished in the top ten, carry bags with there names inscribed. One day when I’m bored I’d like to compare what Whelen shelled out in expenses for the banquet versus that of NASCAR. I wonder who shelled out more? All views and news can reach me at 2 Constitution Court #501 Hoboken, N.J. 07030. And This Week’s Quote of the Week comes from Bob Bahre, explaining his timing of his selling of New Hampshire, “If I would have died, my son Gary would have had the place sold before the funeral.” And what ever happened to Dick Healy?


Source: Walt Stubbs/
Posted:  December 17, 2007

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