Thursday, November 1, 2007
With new track in Smith fold, expect race dates, and Chase dates, to change
By Terry Blount ESPN.com
FORT WORTH, Texas -- Most of those extra millions in cash Bruton Smith had lying around for a new speedway in Charlotte just got allocated elsewhere.
Sources confirmed a Boston Globe story Thursday that Smith has reached an agreement to purchase New Hampshire International Speedway from longtime friend and business associate Bob Bahre.
This is the dream deal Smith has wanted for years. Now his options are wide open.
That long-awaited second Cup race for Las Vegas is a realistic possibility in the near future. And the coveted opening race of the Chase could end up at Texas Motor Speedway soon.
It all depends on what Smith decides to do with the two Cup dates at New Hampshire. The Speedway Motorsports Inc. mogul holds all the cards.
Smith wouldn't discuss it Thursday. "Late for a plane," he said. "Gotta go. See ya tomorrow."
He will be at TMS Friday, and a media horde is waiting to bombard him with questions about his new toy. What will he say?
Here's what he won't say. Smith is not going to say he's moving one of the New Hampshire dates to Las Vegas. The man didn't become a billionaire by being stupid.
If someone buys a sports franchise in one city, but plans to move it to another city, he doesn't announce his intentions on the first day.
NHIS sells out both its Cup dates with more than 90,000 fans at each event. A certain amount of respect and decorum is in order.
Smith will emphasize the success on the one-mile NHIS oval and probably say he has no immediate plans to move races elsewhere.
Nothing will change in 2008. The Sprint Cup schedule is out for next season and some tracks already are selling tickets to those events.
But changes at New Hampshire are inevitable. Smith desperately wants a second Cup race for Las Vegas Motor Speedway, one of six tracks (now soon to be seven) in the SMI chain.
Of course, no one can up and move race dates without NASCAR's approval. But NASCAR officials have painted themselves in a corner on this one.
Even before TMS received a second Cup date, NASCAR president Mike Helton said repeatedly that if Smith wanted a second race for one of his tracks, all he had to do was move one from another SMI track.
Since New Hampshire now becomes an SMI track, Smith could hold Helton to his word. In truth, most NASCAR officials would welcome having another race at Las Vegas.
Then there's the Texas angle. TMS may get the Chase opener, which NHIS has for now.
Fans will likely get to spend more time in Las Vegas Motor Speedway's Neon Garage in the near future.
"We've always said we wanted an earlier date in the Chase," TMS president Eddie Gossage said Thursday. "We want to get off the deer-season date."
This weekend is the start of deer hunting season in Texas. That may seem inconsequential to non-hunters, but it's a religion in the Lone Star State. And many of the people hunting deer are among the people who regularly attend NASCAR events.
Gossage would prefer the September date, even though it's stinking hot in Fort Worth that time of year.
"But we have lights here,'' Gossage said.
Does that mean the first Chase event would be a night race?
"I'm just saying we have lights, that's all," Gossage said.
If Texas were to flip-flop Chase dates with New Hampshire, it could mean a chilly race in New England. The forecast for Sunday in Loudon, N.H., is a high of 55 and a low of 29.
Las Vegas also can't take New Hampshire's July date. The Sahara Desert is cooler than Vegas in July.
Atlanta Motor Speedway, another SMI track, could play into the musical chairs of date swapping. AMS had one of its smallest crowds in years last weekend.
By the way, Smith sure knows how to throw a smoke screen. All that talk in recent weeks of him building another track in Charlotte diverted everyone from the real story while Smith closed the deal for New Hampshire.
Smith said he was willing to spend $350 million to close down Lowe's Motor Speedway and build a new facility in the Charlotte area.
Most of that money transferred to a check with Bahre's name on it, so even a billionaire like Smith probably is tapped out for the moment.
Smith also said he has tax incentives and free land offers that would help him build a new Charlotte track without much of a cash outlay. He'll need it now, but it's safe to say Lowe's Motor Speedway has a reprieve for the moment.
Smith is the last of a wildcatter breed, an octogenarian who lives for making big business deals that shake things up.
He just landed a whopper, and everyone in NASCAR is anxious to see how he handles it.
Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.