Union Leader: New GM Eyes Expansion
David McGrath is new at the top for New Hampshire Motor Speedway, but he already has four years of experience helping the track improve its performance in the Granite State.
McGrath, 51, was named the speedway's executive vice president and general manager one month ago, replacing Jerry Gappens, who had held the post since 2007. McGrath comes from a sales and promotion background, and he has a background in racing, having served as a marketing manager of the Sports Car Club of America before coming to Loudon in 2011 as the speedway's director of advertising and promotions. He has been pitching the speedway to the public and to numerous high-profile sponsors, many of whom, like Toyota and Sprint, have become major partners.
But now he's in the corner office, leading the business that has become the state's preeminent sports and entertainment venue, and one of the top venues in New England.
He's trying to find new ways of using the property. And he's thinking big.
"I've still got so much to learn, so much to get up to speed on," he said. "But we are never going to stop trying to find new ways to utilize this property, finding new, cool things to do."
He's building on many of Gappens' efforts to expand operations at the 1,200-acre facility. Among the ideas the speedway has been considering is the addition of lights above the 1.058-mile oval track, which is one of the more distinctive racing loops in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Lights, a multimillion-dollar investment, would allow night racing, something NASCAR fans have been asking for, McGrath said. It would need the approval of the town, and the track would seek the approval of area residents. Such a move would also require the approval of NASCAR "and our broadcasting partners," he said.
"Lights is certainly something that we're always going to be looking at. I know the fans want that, and we owe it to the fans to explore that to the furthest extent that we can," he said. "It's a deep exploration, a process we are undertaking. We are looking at it, exploring it, giving it the due diligence that it requires."
McGrath also wants to find new ways of using and selling the track, and for bringing more people there on a year-round basis. NHMS already offers numerous attractions besides its two Sprint Cup races, such as serving as host to the Daniel Webster Council's Boy Scout Jamboree in the fall and hosting high-profile motorcycle races during Motorcycle Week in the Granite State.
He's considering hosting an Ironman Triathlon or a Tough Mudder mud run, the kinds of events that are held at other venues in the state during warmer months.
Also receiving strong consideration is a return of snowmobile racing during winter months. The speedway tried that once, in 2010, and brought several thousand snowmobilers and fans to the speedway grounds outside of the track, where a snowmobile racing track was built. It was sponsored by Ski-Doo.
Snowmobile racing hasn't been tried again since then, but it's a natural event for the track to hold, he said, as NHMS lies at a confluence of several Central New Hampshire snowmobile trails.
"We go into a period in the winter where we're just covered in snow," McGrath said. "It makes sense. I've got the space, I've got the property, I've got the ability to move a lot of people on and off the property because of our (Sprint Cup) experience."
But most of his work revolves around the major NASCAR events, which fill the 88,000-seat grandstands in July and September each year. He hopes to bring new "decking space" for fans outside of the first two turns of the track.
"One of the trends in our sport is to provide the ability for our fans to move around, and not just have to stay in their seats all the time," he said. " We know it's hot in July. It's even hot sometimes in September."
The race tickets will offer the same or more entertainment value as always, he said, though the speedway is reviewing its average $70-per-race ticket prices, he said.
"On ticket prices, we're always evaluating how that's going to work, and what we deliver for the dollars we ask. (Prices) won't necessarily go up next year," he said.
The track is looking for additional sponsors again this winter, as it always does, and though attendance for NASCAR events nationally went through a lull in past years, it's as strong now as ever, he said.
The speedway, which had been signing year-by-year agreements with NASCAR, just signed a new five-year agreement, "which helps our fan base plan their calendars," he said.
"Racing is the best it's been in a long time. It's come back in a big way," McGrath said.
The Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce has had a long, productive association with the speedway and Gappens, said Tim Sink, the chamber's president, and it looks forward to working with McGrath.
"We've been dealing with the speedway for many years now, it has had a dramatic economic impact in our area and on the state," he said. "The speedway has brought a tremendous increase in dollars to the area from visitor spending, and in promoting New Hampshire as a visitor's destination in the region, nationally, and around the world."