“Magic Mile” Puts NASCAR’s Short Track Series On Center Stage
For NASCAR’s regional touring series, what’s old is new once again at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Saturday’s New England short track showdown will host three different divisions in a unique tripleheader aimed at highlighting three of the best short track divisions from both the United States and Canada. The NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and NASCAR Pinty’s Series join the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour for the event which harkens back to the days before New Hampshire Motor Speedway ever hosted its first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race in the mid-1990s.
When the 1.058-mile speedway first opened in 1990 — the largest in New England, both then and now — it did so with regular doubleheaders featuring the former Busch North Series and the Whelen Modified Tour. In those days, names like Mike McLaughlin, Steve Park, Ricky Craven, Mike Stefanik and Reggie Ruggiero made trips to Victory Lane.
While the track hosted two Cup Series events annually for a 20-year span from 1997-2017, it recognized its history at the grassroots levels of the sport. With an open September weekend on its schedule this season, the time was perfect for NHMS to return to its roots.
“It certainly is in our DNA,” NHMS General Manager David McGrath said. “Always has been, always will be. We certainly see the value, and we are thrilled that fans come out for all those races.”
The weekend is more than just the racing, too. With limited garage access during tightly-managed Cup weekends, the track is promising fans much closer proximity to drivers and cars during the New England Short Track Showdown.
And while the event is not the first tripleheader in the track’s history, having held standalone NASCAR Xfinity Series races with the K&N Pro Series and Modifieds on the undercard in the past, Saturday will still mark a first.
RACING-REFERENCE: Previous Whelen Modified & K&N Pro Series races at New Hampshire
The Musket 250 for the Whelen Modified Tour will be the longest race in series history and the most lucrative with a purse of over $25,000.
“It’s always huge when we can be the premier division at races. Even when we’re not, we usually put on the best races,” Whelen Modified Tour point leader Justin Bonsignore said. “I think it’s a really good opportunity for our series, for K&N and for Pinty’s to be the lead divisions at an event and have the fans come in and get to know the drivers better.”
“Let’s put it clearly, the Whelen Modifieds put on one whale of a show at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and I think that the fans are absolutely ecstatic about this 250-lap (race),” McGrath said. “They’re going to put on a great show for our fans and we are so happy about it. We’re not backing off.”
On the K&N Pro Series side, the Apple Barrel 125 will be the first series race at NHMS not held on a Cup weekend in nearly two decades. The race will be the longest at the track for the series since 2011, the last year it visited Loudon twice in the same season.
“It will be a little different being there without one of the top three series, it’s a little weird,” said Tyler Ankrum, the California rookie who leads the K&N Pro Series East standings with four wins — one of them at Loudon in July. “Every NASCAR track we’ve gone to all year, the Cup Series is there with us. You need to still be on top of your game, though — you should be on top of your game no matter what. You want to feel like a Rick Hendrick or a Joe Gibbs is watching you at these types of tracks, and they should be watching us. We’re the next thing — along with the Modifieds and the Pinty’s guys.”
Ankrum, though just 17 years old, is keenly aware of the series’ history at NHMS.
“The call it the Magic Mile, because it’s magical,” Ankrum said with a laugh. “As awkward and childish as it sounds, it’s true. I think it’s really cool that it was a road course before (Briar Motorsports Park). When we won there at the beginning of the year, my grandfather who’s 70-something, even he didn’t know that. I think that’s a really cool thing about the place.”
While Saturday’s race marks the 69th in series history for the Modifieds, and the 73rd overall for the K&N Pro Series East, it’s a first for the Pinty’s Series. The Canadian series has never raced at New Hampshire.
In fact, the Visit New Hampshire 100 will mark the first series race in the United States.
“I’m very proud of our Canadian national series and the fans are going to be treated to … side-by-side battles and action all over the track,” said Pinty’s Series point leader L.P. Dumoulin. “There are at least 10 or more drivers with the equipment and talent to win, and the race is going to be awesome.”
With late-season point battles, extra distances and plenty of purse money on the line on a big standalone stage, all three races which are part of the inaugural New England Short Track Showdown promise to deliver.
Five-time Whelen Modified Tour champion Doug Coby is a firm believer that you don’t need Cup cars at New Hampshire to have a first-rate race weekend for fans in the northeast and Canada.
“We’ve always been the main event in our world,” said Coby, a four-time winner at NHMS. “This is just a beast that we’ve never tried to tame before. The race can go in a lot of different directions — and whatever direction it goes in, the cool thing is that if we keep doing this every year, it will be something different for the fans every year.”