LOUDON, N.H. - If things seems a "sweeter" this time of year at New Hampshire Motor Speedway compared to other facilities on the NASCAR circuit, look no farther the majestic Maple trees that surround the picturesque 1,200-acre speedway venue.
NASCAR and maple sugaring have more in common than you think. Not only do both seasons start in February, but they both have significant roles in the New Hampshire economy. And while the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series won't make the first of its two annual stops at New Hampshire Motor Speedway until July, the checkered flag is flying as maple sugaring season draws to an end in the Granite State.
"Every year, we celebrate the tasty results of the maple sugar houses all over New Hampshire," explains Jerry Gappens, executive vice president and general manager of the speedway. "We should also recognize the impressive contribution this industry makes to our economy."
Running in New Hampshire from mid-February to mid-April, the maple sugaring season is a significant stimulant to the economy in the state. With close to 120,000 gallons of maple syrup being produced in more than 50 sugar houses across the state, a recent tally saw the wholesale and retail sale of maple syrup and related products total $4.8 million. Loudon alone produces 10 percent of the state's maple syrup, a majority of it a "stone's throw" from the start/finish line or off the backstretch camping lots.
"The weather in February and March ran too cold on average for good production, while the first week of April provided near perfect temperatures," said Howard Pearl, who owns Pearl & Sons Farm in Loudon, N.H. Pearl is also an active member on the board for the New Hampshire Chapter of Speedway Children's Charities. "The combined effect of these patterns will likely leave the state with a less than average production for the season. The southern half of the state will end production in the next seven days, with the northern half likely able to run an additional week longer."
Pearl & Sons Farm, which makes syrup, candies and cream maple products, features 11,000 taps and over 85 miles of maple syrup piping that overlooks the speedway. It is one of five maple sugaring houses in Loudon, N.H., and one of 14 in Merrimack County.
Another Loudon-based farm that doesn't sit far from the speedway is Mudgett Hill Mumbling Maplers. Kim Bean, owner and operator of the 30-acre farm, makes maple syrup and maple candy. And while it's been a down year in terms of production, the quality of syrup is as good as ever, something Bean takes great pride in.
"It's been a tough year, but you still have to turn around a strong product," said Bean, who is also a contractor, and has helped redesign suites, put up drywall and even had a large hand in the building of the new Granite State Legends dealership at the speedway over the last 25 years. "When it comes to the maple business, after you get into it, it's hard to get out of it. Started out of a backyard with three or four guys from town, built a sap house and went from there. It's the definition of New Hampshire."
So, how exactly does maple sugaring work? Well, New Hampshire maple producers tap their sugar maple trees by drilling a small hole in its trunk and inserting a spout. They then fasten a bucket or on some cases plastic tubing to the spout where the sap drips from the tree.
After being collected, it's brought to the sugar house where it's boiled over a fire. As the steam rises from evaporator pans and pots, the sap becomes more concentrated until it finally reaches the proper density to be classified as syrup. It is then drawn from the evaporator, filtered, graded and bottled.
It takes approximately forty gallons of sap to make one gallon of pure maple syrup.
New Hampshire Motor Speedway is an active supporter of local maple sugar houses, giving the popular syrup as gifts to sponsors, media and various NASCAR-affiliated teams. Even Speedway Motorsports Chairman Bruton Smith can be caught sneaking a case of the local product out the back door when departing after a NASCAR weekend. "My grandkids love it," he says with a big smile!