Q&A With New Hampshire Motor Speedway General Manager David McGrath

David McGrath (Courtesy: New Hampshire Motor Speedway)

LOUDON, N.H. – Directing the present and preparing for the future for the largest sporting facility in New England is the task at hand daily for New Hampshire Motor Speedway general manager and executive vice president David McGrath.

McGrath, who has in the top position at the facility since October 2015, is overseeing an every changing landscape at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. In March it was announced that Speedway Motorsports Inc., which owns the track, would move the September Monster Energy Cup weekend in Loudon to its Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Next year the track play host to just one Monster Energy Cup weekend for the first time since 1996.

McGrath, a Marlborough, Mass. native, began working at the track in 2011 as director of advertising and promotions and was named the track’s 2012 Employee of the Year. He was promoted to vice president of marketing and promotions in January 2013 followed by a promotion vice president of corporate sales in January 2014.

With the Monster Energy Cup ready to roll into town this weekend for the Overton’s 301 on Sunday, RaceDayCT recently sat down with McGrath to talk about his vision for the track, NASCAR, regional racing and other topics.

RaceDayCT: With the announcement of what’s happening next year with the September weekend, encapsulate how you’re looking at things at this point in moving forward?

David McGrath: Where we are for 2018 is we’re in the ninth inning with our friends at NASCAR to try to figure out what that September [2018] weekend could look like. We’re thinking it’s going to be regional series’. We would love to see a tripleheader weekend in September, I think highlighted by the Modifieds. I think our fans in this region of the country love that race and want to see that race continue. We’re looking at that. We’re looking at two other regional touring series’ that we’re still negotiating with NASCAR on.

RaceDayCT: When you go back to the early days of this facility, it survived in the beginning on those kinds of events. In today’s world, how do you market that differently than what they did 25 years ago and how do you make it work financially for this facility?

McGrath: Well, a lot of that rests in how we work well with NASCAR on the sanctioning fees and what those costs are. The reality is, we haven’t stopped being a market that loves its racing in New England and I still believe in my heart that our race fans are still going to come out and see. I’ll stick with [Modifieds] for a moment. Knowing what kind of race we put on with the [Modifieds] here, and we’ve been doing for many years, I’m convinced more than ever that you market it very much the same way. This is a great race, this is a great facility to come see it. This is a marquee facility to come see some great racing series’ go at it. It’s still, in my opinion, a Super Bowl track. It’s still that iconic speedway that it always has been. Market it, we’re probably look at it as a short track extravaganza. Like this is the Mecca where all the short track guys would come in with their short track series’ and put on a heck of a show for a fans. … I know that in my heart I don’t want to compete with Sunday. I want to make sure that people are home watching [Monster Energy Cup] racing. So it’s my mind it’s a Friday – Saturday. Obviously it won’t be at night, but we can go to 7:30. I look forward to it. I think that’s really what our fans want to see. We’re a race facility and we’ll always be a race facility. We’ll do other non-racing things too, but that’s where my head is at.

RaceDayCT: September has always been the month since the second [Monster Energy Cup] date was added in 1997. Is it in concrete that this weekend next year is absolutely a September event or is there any possibility that it ends up being in a different time frame?

McGrath: No, it’s a September event. I really want it in the fall. In my mind it’s a September event. Now, would I look at other racing series’ and other things to come in the course of our racing season? Sure. But I’m looking at this as the same racing weekend, that Sept. 22, Sept. 23. It would definitely be in the fall

RaceDayCT: Is there any thought of revisiting IndyCar?

McGrath: Too early to say. Sure there is. Things change. Last time they were here was not a success, but their product has gotten better. It’s changed. Do I think New England would support it? Based on what I saw and the interest with what was going on in Boston with that defunct Grand Prix, I think there’s something there. I’m not overly excited on what those costs may be just yet. I don’t know enough about that yet to understand. But it’s certainly something we could think about. I’m open to it.

RaceDayCT: How much have you examined the landscape of Modified racing in New England and the splinters that have come with different series’, and how much do think it hurts your product here, if any?

McGrath: I’m not going to say it hurts it, but I think whenever you dilute something you run the risk of kind of confusing the fans or creating too much. But as a business guy I also understand that the need is there and that if people want to spend the money to come into somebody’s facility to watch a version of Modified racing, I don’t see the bad in that. But at some point you hit a critical mass of too much. You could say a tipping point. But I’m not sure we’re there yet. I think we might be headed there, but I don’t think we’ve arrived. I know for me personally, I’m a race fan and I’ll watch a lot of different forms of racing. If it’s got a motor and a throttle I’m going to watch it. But at some point maybe three or four different series’ of the same car is getting a little high.

RaceDayCT: As far as beyond racing here and new things, is there anything you guys are looking at that might surprise some people. There’s been a lot of talk about concerts and that seems to be a trend somewhat with racing venues lately. Is that something you’d be looking at?

McGrath: We’ve got a lot of interest from Live Nation to bring a three-day country music festival here. There’s an area in our campground that is, believe it or not, a natural amphitheater. It’s low on one end and high on the other. Our team certainly is designed to host big events. I believe in my gut that that would be a major major major stake in the state’s economy and helpful. As I’ve said to the governor, you just don’t replace a Monster Energy Cup race with three or four regional series’ weekends. It’s got to be a really big event. And certainly a concert like that would be one thing that could do that. So yes, we were looking at concerts. And quite frankly, our team is always evaluating how we use the 1,200 acres of this property for different things. We have a Tough Mudder event that we started last year. This would be the second year of a three year deal and that’s been successful. We need to keep going and keep trying new things.

RaceDayCT: Is lights that question that people still ask and at this point has that changed with the changing landscape?

McGrath: Let me level set lights so that you understand exactly, there is no covenant, there is no restriction against lights. I could put those up tomorrow. We could have Musco put up the most expensive light system in the world. The problem is our settlement agreement has me limited to racing, I cannot race past 7:30 at night. That’s the difference. Right now, I’m not pursuing a change to night racing for the July race. As much as I know that some folks aren’t happy with that. I certainly know that the temperature can be a little higher in July. The median is low 80’s. I know it’s hot in the stands. But right now that’s not on our front burner.

RaceDayCT: What have been your thought this year on the Monster Energy Cup Series?

McGrath: I love the stage racing. I do. I find the stage racing to be fascinating. I think it’s doing exactly what NASCAR wanted it to do. It’s creating more magical moments in a race that I think is what the fans want. … The collaboration between the industry, the drivers, the team owners, the track promoters, the sanctioning body, all the stakeholders, I think it is amazing. Their ability to create these councils, wheter it’s the driver council, track council, promoter council, fan council, it all helps to communicate better as a business. I love the direction. I’m pleased with what I’ve seen from racing. I think at the end of the day our fans are going to love what they see in the stage racing. I think it’s really going to look great when it comes to New Hampshire. I think we’re moving in the right direction.

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Comments

  1. Fast Eddie says:

    Thanks to the NHMS team for wanting to keep a second event with Modifieds! A suggestion would be a “Northeast Nationals”; WMT, VMRS, PASS, & ACT. The two top regional “door car” series along with the two top regional Modified series might attract a big enough crowd to make it work for the track. I think ACT and PASS both have a good-sized fan base, particularly north of Massachusetts. I also think most Modified fans would want to go to a “doubleheader”.
    Question: Does anyone know how long the stages will be for the MECS race? I’ve been looking around online and can’t find any info on that.

  2. From the SMI web site”
    “Speedway Motorsports, Inc., through its subsidiaries, owns and operates eight first-class racing facilities in significant markets across the country. The Company also provides souvenir merchandising services, and food, beverage and hospitality catering services through its SMI Properties subsidiaries; manufactures and distributes smaller-scale, modified racing cars and parts through its U.S. Legend Cars International subsidiary; provides radio programming, production and distribution through its Performance Racing Network subsidiary.”

    Great article. Informative and reading between the lines a bit sad. This is a New England guy that has done a great job working his way up apparently to the top position at the track. But he works for an organization that views NHMS as a chess piece that had a date with greater value at a more profitable venue. A “fragmented’ modified scene on the cusp of oversupply and holding concerts at the track are the takeaways I read. How is that not sad?
    Enough with the NHMS already. As far as I could see there are more people at just about any track in New England then were at NHMS for some of their recent stand alone events. David McGrath, probably very capable and a good guy but is working for a company that at this point in time is managing the decline of one of their weaker facilities. Modified racing does not need to aid in the management of the decline and hastening over supply. Tread lightly all you modified series as far as the NHMS is concerned. Sure the racing can be great and sure you like that big track. But you play to empty seats and the only thing you take away is the aura of a loser that no one wants to see.
    “fragmented” That seems to be a bigger story.

  3. darealgoodfella says:

    Doug, you are a Waterford guy, one end of the spectrum. NHMS is the other end. NHMS is for real racing, real speed. You’ve never been to NHMS. You’ll never understand until you do.

  4. Crazy in NY says:

    Dareal with his mindlessness again. They don’t have real racing at Waterford? Only big ovals offer real racing? You’ve never been to MVS if you make statements like that. The story is Modifieds can and do put on a great show on every size track between NHMS and MVS. In my opinion ,until the spec motor came along, NASCAR’s best product was the WMT @ NH. They ruined it with the “competition” yellow ( spec gas up ) and took much of the strategy away. Long gone is the day that NASCAR= best. NH empty seats are indicative of larger issues other than the simple fact that Mods run there.

  5. Triple header race weekend starting with ACT tour, K&N East,and Whelen Mods for 150 laps would be great show!!!

  6. I’ve likened that fella that always jumps to conclusion and makes big sweeping statements as akin to arthritis. Always there, always a little painful but not debilitating to the conversation. Best not rewarding him with recognition.
    Great observation Crazy in NY about the engines. I look at the rules for all the divisions and engines is a subject we could go on for hours about.
    WMT at NHMS in conjunction with the big boys is magic. Seeing all the iconic numbers on the haulers in the infield, the wall to wall campers in the distance and the electric atmosphere. The WMT crowds for the races certainly a fraction of capacity but still the biggest crowds all year for a WMT event. That won’t change for the one Monster event. Will a second triple header with other divisions attract a good audience. I guess we won’t know until it’s tried. A couple of you guys are enthusiastic and that’s a good sign.
    As a Stafford guy there is nothing I find more exciting then seeing the WMT taking the green and rumbling into the first turn tightly packed and engines roaring. Two days of excitement, the crowd is most times great, campers all over the parking lot and great supporting divisions lead by the SK’s. Thompson’s Ice Breaker and World Series are memorable as well. An intimate, grass roots atmosphere not overshadowed by a cavernous one mile track with empty seats screaming that the event is no big deal. For my money Stafford and Thompson are the perfect size track for the big events.

  7. getserious says:

    “..NHMS is for real racing…” Dareal, are YOU for real? You’re kiddin, right? NHIS/NHMS hasn’t had a true competition “race” in ten-plus years. It’s big-time-wrasslin “show” manipulated with debris yellows, carb plates, “time-out “stages”, half-time “competition cautions”, changes in the length of the mod races in the middle of the race, or shuffling race lengths to make TV schedules. ACT, VMRS, WMT, MTS and even mini stocks shine on short-tracks.

  8. darealgoodfella says:

    Doug, what you see in a video is nothing like actually being there. The NWMT races at NHMS are the best, simply outstanding. Real racing.

    You should go to NHMS for a NWMT race at least once. Then you will be talking from actual knowledge. You’ll actually see the crowds. But until you go to a NWMT race at Loudon, why do you talk about it?

    Too bad you’ll never know or understand how the SPEC motor changed racing at Loudon. Changed the strategy and tactics.

  9. darealgoodfella says:

    getserious, the NWMT races have many, as in dozens of lead changes, and many within a single lap. That is exciting. You’ll never see that in Trucks, xfinity or Monster. There has been a snoozer or two in the last 20-ish years, and I’ve been going to Loudon for a very long time. There’s nothing like Modifieds at Loudon.

    Doug, you’re gonna have to go to Loudon, for your first time. Then you can join these conversations.

  10. I agree with (dareal) on this one. You have to go to Loudon to really appreciate modified racing. Its just awesome and Saturday is the best bang for your buck anywhere !!!

  11. Fast Eddie says:

    The best racing on a one mile track that you’ll ever see is the Modifieds at Loudon! There was one race not long ago that had over 50 lead changes at the start/finish line! Most have 30 – 40, but they don’t count the 2-3 that sometimes happen in the same lap for many laps! I can usually only go on one day, and that’s why I happily give up free tickets for Sunday and pay to see the Modifieds on Saturday!

  12. Fast Eddie says:

    Sorry, I need to correct myself. The record for “official” lead changes was a couple of years ago at 35. I would estimate the “real count” would be double that. AND there’s nothing like seeing 5 or 6 Modifieds “bump drafting” at 140 mph!

  13. darealgoodfella says:

    Doug, let me remind you… you’ve never been to Loudon.

  14. There is no wrong answer regarding the proposed September triple header event at NHMS. I prefer the more intimate confines of Stafford for big events but anything that works for modified racing is a good thing. Mr. McGrath is focusing on a future and the promotion of a new combo event that could very well be an early fall extravaganza for three of the top racing touring divisions in the Northeast. My view is more cynical. More as a national company managing the decline of one of their profit centers and using the WMT and others as well as concerts no less to soften the landing. With proposed event days of Friday and Saturday to avoid interference with the Monster Energy Cup. Neither Stafford, nor Thompson, locally owned, treat the modifieds like a ugly step child like this sounds.
    Clearly you all love the modifieds at NHMS or at the very least the WMT modifieds so here’s hoping the new event is a success if it comes to be.

  15. darealgoodfella says:

    The Modifieds rode the coattails of the upper tier NASCAR events at Loudon. It was a great way to get more exposure for the Modifieds. And until a few years ago, the Modifieds held the track record at Loudon. The Mods were faster than the Cup cars.

    The NWMT Mods are a fantastic event at Loudon, and now that Loudon will only get one Cup event, it make sense to develop an independent Modified event at Loudon to make up for the event lost because of the lost Cup event.

    NWMT Mods at Loudon… I’m there.

    Doug, you should go to Loudon, try it.

  16. OK that was good discussion and perhaps more then warranted considering this will not be at issue for over a year. Plenty of time for management to assess the situation and plan accordingly. It should be interesting to see what they decide. In the mean time the WMT has dates to fill at NHMS and all you fans of the track to entertain with great racing.
    Stafford cancelled once again. Boo. But adding an additional event later on.Yeah.

  17. I’d love to see Indycar return!

    I have a blast at Pocono, and would love to have two oval dates within driving distance. High down force cars are really cool on flatter one mile tracks.

    I find the New Hampshire cup races to be borefests, with the shorter distances of the lower level stock cars far more fun.

  18. darealgoodfella says:

    Doug, being at the track is far different than watching on TV. You should try going to the track. Since you haven’t been to a NWMT event at Loudon, you should go this weekend and experience the real deal. Then you can have an actual informed opinion on the possibility of stand-alone Modified events at Loudon.

  19. How about an open modified event open to any legal tour type modified in the country and run a 300 lap event as the main attraction. Could then add a super late model event for 200 laps then fill remaining event with local divisions a couple of 50 lap features and it could be called The New England 600

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