Notes From the NHMS Open Test by Amie Campbell
Gappens, Park and Dillon All Speak
Is New Hampshire the New Bristol?

When it was announced late last year that the now New Hampshire Motor Speedway had been sold Speedway Motorsports Inc., many throughout the northeast region wondered what that meant for racing as they knew it.  Would the “big” races of NASCAR’s top three professional tours be siphoned off to other tracks elsewhere in the country?  Would the drivers of the two regional touring series that have called New Hampshire home (the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and NASCAR Camping World East Series) lose opportunities to showcase their talent?  And what of the track itself?
Jerry Gappens, the new General Manager at NHMS, doesn’t have an easy job.  From the very beginning of the SMI acquisition, there have been rumblings that the track would eventually be set up to waste away.  But Gappens doesn’t see it that way, and he’s doing everything in his power to prove that not to be the case.

“When (Bruton Smith) bought Bristol (Motor Speedway), people were worried he was going to move dates to some other facility or build another track,” explained Gappens, “Because it was just this little half-mile track, not in a major market at all.  Now, if you look 12 years later, that speedway holds 160,000 people and it’s one of the top sports tickets.

“This [track] reminds me of Bristol 12 years ago,” he continued.  “That’s what excites me about this job.”

SMI has engineers already looking at ways to make the NHMS experience even better.  Some of the ideas thrown out as possibilities included swapping the front and backstretches much like what was done at Atlanta Motor Speedway.    Whatever changes may come may not be immediate, though.
“When we get this year under our belt, we’ll have a better feel for what direction he wants to take it,” said Gappens.

Park Still Has Plenty of Fight Left

Steve Park has accomplished a great deal in his racing career.  He was the first driver to race in all five series that actively compete at New Hampshire (Modifieds, Camping World East, Trucks, Nationwide, Cup).  He’s won several times, none bigger than the 2001 race at Rockingham the week after his car owner, Dale Earnhardt, lost his life at Daytona.

Park has also experienced some dramatic lows, the biggest being the September, 2001 accident that nearly took his life and did leave him with a severe concussion.  In the months, and even years, after that accident, critics took every incorrect word choice and misstep Park made and used it as proof that he had started racing again too soon or that he wasn’t ready to be racing again.

Even now as Park shifts to a full time ride in the Camping World East Series, his actions are questioned, his racing desire second guessed.  One intrepid reporter asked Park what his goal and expectations were, the implication being that he was out there to just have fun.  Park bite back, “What’s the goal of racing? Winning! We race to win.  I’m here to win.”

Let it be clear – Park still has the desire, still has that competitive fire burning inside of him.

Dillon Feels No Pressure From Car Number

At 17, Austin Dillon is one of the younger competitors in the Camping World East
Series – but he’s also the points leader, courtesy of a season-opening win at
Greensville-Pickens Speedway in his very first start.  While the win was not without
controversy, Dillon had been the dominant car of the day.

It’s not his age or his track record that will draw fans attention to his car however.  It’s
the black paint and the trademarked #3 on the side.  Dillon, you see, is the grandson
of longtime Sprint Cup car owner Richard Childress.  And for as long as Dillon has
been racing, it has been behind the wheel of a car bearing the #3.

Though he respects the tradition of the number and what it means to so many people,
Dillon doesn’t feel like he has to perform above and beyond just because of it. 

“We’ve gotten kind of used to (the car number and paint scheme),” explained Dillon.
“It’s cool.  I want to impress the fans with it.  We’re going to use the #3 as long as the
fans like it.  So far it’s been great and we’ve had good feedback from it.”

If Dillon continues to impress as he did his first race out, then NASCAR fans can expect
to be seeing that #3 car climbing progressively higher through the NASCAR ranks.

Up Next for the Camping World East Series is the US Cellular 200 combination race at Iowa Speedway with the Camping World West Series on May 18th. 

The Whelen Modified Tour returns to action May 23rd at Stafford Motor Speedway.

Austin Dillon is carrying on the tradition of the #3.
Jerry Gapans (Left), and NASCAR officials Lee Roy (Center) and Brett Bodine (Right)