Q&A: Visions Of David McGrath As New Hampshire Motor Speedway General Manager

David McGrath (Courtesy: New Hampshire Motor Speedway)

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.

David McGrath has plenty on his plate in his role as general manager of New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

McGrath was named the track’s general manager last October, replacing Jerry Gappens in the position. Gappens had been the track’s general manager since Speedway Motorsports Inc. had acquired the track from former owner Bob Bahre in November 2007.

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.

New Hampshire Motor Speedway will host the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for the New Hampshire 301 on July 17 and the New England 300 on Sept. 25. In the meantime, the track is alive with activity regularly for 12 months of the year.

RaceDayCT recently sat down with McGrath to talk about his vision for the track, NASCAR, regional racing and other topics.

RaceDayCT: What is your general vision for the facility?

David McGrath: “I think the biggest thing is it starts with the physical space of the property. What I mean by that is that we started down a road where, I don’t necessarily view it as taking out seats, like it’s some defeated purpose. It’s a remodel. It’s the way the business is changing. And we as a business have to evolve and this team, we evaluate and think about, ‘What’s our high water mark on ticket sales?’ and ‘Where do we move?’ and ‘Why do we move?’ and ‘Why would we do some of the things like what we’ve done in turn three with the Granite Ledge?’

“Where we’ve removed a number of seats but then we’ve created this great new trackside hospitality. I kind of envision that continuing in turn four. Basically, my goal would be to move that right up against the Laconia suites and create a great trackside villa.

“In our business, the white tent behind the track, the hospitality village, that’s a dying model across a lot of facilities, not just New Hampshire Motor Speedway. So, to be able to modify and renovate portions of the speedway and give our consumers and our corporate customers new experiences, that is the vision that I really want to move the speedway in. It’s required. It’s what our corporate partners are looking for, unique new things.

“And, continue the trajectory that has already been established, which is that we have got this great infield space and I want to see that continue to be evolved and grown. One of the great things that our marketing and events team is putting together this year is the Champion’s Club, which will be located out right at pit out on the infield. It will be a tent in an area where you’re basically looking at the cars coming right back onto the racing surface at pit out. It’s going to be a fantastic new experience. I really want to see that continue, where we give fans more opportunities to move about the property and see different vantage points of the racing action.

“I think from a stick and ball perspective, I think a lot of stadiums are really good at creating reasons to move about, not just sit in your seat the entire time. I think in our world, where you’re at a three to three and half hour race, that’s not the worst thing in world for people to get up and be able to see different vantage points of the property and be able to enjoy the racing perspective. I think that vision of a fanbase that can relocate to different parts of the property is kind of where I’d like see things going. I’m convinced there’s great little areas that we haven’t even tapped into yet that we’ll be able to do with our marketing and events teams.

“… Right now we’re at 88,000 [seats]. I think ideally, my sweet spot could be somewhere around 77,000 to 88,000, somewhere in that range. … It was 93,500.

“It’s just reevaluating how our business makes the most sense. It’s not any different than what we’re seeing at other speedways, like Daytona did, like Charlotte has done. It’s very common in our sport today to see that.”

RaceDayCT: How do you see the NASCAR trajectory moving right now and that business overall?

McGrath: “I see it as coming back in a very big way. When I say coming back I mean exciting racing. I got to spend a lot of time around this business. I think what they have done this year in particular – I know that they ran a couple of aero package tests last year at Kentucky and Darlington – I think what they have done with aero package this year has made NASCAR racing more exciting, closer. … Being able to create more passing, more close finishing. Look what we’ve had in the first half of the racing season. We’ve had some of the closest finishes in the history of the sport. That’s telling you something. I see NASCAR continuing to put a product on the track that is exciting, as it always has been, but the more racing that can take place, ill handling cars, drivers don’t like, but fans love. They make better races. I’m excited to see what that looks like on our track. … I think it’s going to be an exciting in July when they’re here.

“I see NASCAR continually evolving the sport. I think the other neat thing about what NASCAR is doing today. They’ve created driver councils, they’ve created track councils. They’ve always been very good with the fans and they’ll continue to do great things with the fans. But I like the fact that we’re talking as tracks and promoters and they’re also talking with the drivers because no one of us is as smart as all of us. When you think about it as a business I think that giving that feedback, I think that just shows you the level of commitment that NASCAR has to making sure the future of the sport continues as it always will be, to be healthy and continue to grow and grow the fanbase.”

RaceDayCT: What is your vision for the future of regional divisions at the track, like the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, as part of the Sprint Cup weekends?

McGrath: “Starting with July we’re excited with the Modifieds. They’ll kick off Friday with their 50-lap shootout, which is in its third year, which is exciting. There is definitely no reason we would change that. We love having Modifieds here. That’s a big part of our race weekends. I think it’s one of the top races of the weekend as far as energy and excitement.

“The K&N Pro Series East, we’re flipping that from Friday to Saturday and that just creates a tripleheader with the XFINTY Series and the Modifieds again. I think that for the July race weekend, having those divisions on our race bill is an important part of our race weekend. I don’t see that changing in the near future.

“September with ACT, we love the American-Canadian Tour. We’re excited to have the Late Models back. I speak with those folks quite regularly and I don’t see any reason why that would change. That also is a very popular race. The problem with that race or that weekend is that we lose a little bit of daylight from July to September. I don’t like it when Mother Nature wants to shut the lights off. I like having those regional touring series’ here. It’s the roots of New England racing. Of course NASCAR Sprint Cup is the pinnacle of all racing in North America, but we take great pride in showcasing those touring series’”

RaceDayCT: Since SMI purchased the track the installation of lights at the facility has been a constant topic of conversation. Where do you see that?

McGrath: “We are exploring the rationales behind the “Why’s” and why we need that. But I’ll be quick to point out, when you’re racing in the daylight, tracks behave differently than they do at night. What I saw on Saturday day during the [Sprint All-Star event at Charlotte Motor Speedway], that was just fantastic racing. I don’t necessarily look at lights at New Hampshire Motor Speedway meaning it would be a night race automatically. It’s not that simple. Ratings are technically better during day races than they are for evening races on prime. I think you also lose a big part of your family base because your kids are up much later in the evening than for a day race. So families can be impacted. And there are other benefits to night racing. You basically get your Sunday back and everything is kind of compacted. But to me, the main focus of getting lights is that it does give the Speedway and the team here an insurance policy. … Having lights is a great insurance policy to get the race in on the day it was scheduled. Our partners in the broadcast world, they certainly love the fact that we could keep that and not lose a day. Will I continue to pursue it? Absolutely. But is it for one simple reason? No, it’s for many reasons. But our business has changed a great deal over the last 26 years. Over the last 26 years NASCAR has changed considerably. Our sport has changed and so we have to be able to push the reason why we need to change too.

“I would say this: I think in the 26 years that this facility has operated at the level which it operates, I think we have shown the community and the state that we know what we’re doing and we’re good neighbors and we’re going to continue to be good neighbors and be mindful of everything and everybody because I get it. When you first arrived and took the sleepy Briar Motorsports Park and you turned it into a NASCAR Sprint Cup track, maybe there was a lot of unknown what that was going to be. But I think over the 26 years we have been here I think people have seen there are busy weekends, we’re good neighbors and we’ll continue to always be that. It matters a great deal to me.”

RaceDayCT: What about everything else going on beyond the big Sprint Cup weekend events?

McGrath: “There are other things that we’d love to accomplish on the property. Certainly having the ability to host winter events here is very attractive. We’re unique. We’re one of the few NASCAR tracks that has a great opportunity to host winter snowmobile events and things like that. Winters in New England are long and certainly there are opportunities to do other things and we’d love to be able to explore how to entertain the snowmobile crowd. Just the simple fact that we have multiple trails that all converge on the property. We have 1,100 acres and we use about 35 percent of it. I would love to see more use of it. And certainly that’s a mandate that comes from our corporate team down in Charlotte is how do we create cool new unique things on the property. I think a good example of that is our growth for motorcycle week [June 11-19]. If you see the Speedway then you’re going to have the Loudon Classic, America’s oldest motorcycle race and we’re going to be like the destination spot for all test drives. We have Harley, Polaris, Yamaha, Can-Am, Indian, Victory, they’ll all be here [demonstrating] motorcyles. We’ll have over 40 displays here. People can come in with their bikes and get stuff done to them, pinstripes and lights and all. It’s going to be cool. Jackyl is playing. A big Harley band. I like that stuff. I like to see events grow and get bigger and have more energy. That’s kind of what drives me in in the innovations of what we seek as a team is new things we can do.”

Leave a Reply

Copyright 2018 E-Media Sports

Website Designed by Thirty Marketing