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New England Short Track Showdown on hold for 2020

Ray Christian III lines up to head to the track in June's New England Short Track Showdown at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Promoter Bob Guptill announced the event would not run in 2020, citing a lack of sponsorship and the risk of staging the multi-division event. (Jeff Brown photo)

For three years, New England’s largest paved oval hosted an early-summer celebration of short track racing. For now, that celebration has been put on hold.

New England Short Track Showdown founder and promoter Bob Guptill announced in a press release that he will not promote a fourth Short Track Showdown at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2020.

In the release, Guptill cited not only the costs of promoting and hosting the multi-division event, but the risk inherent in planning the weekend. While insisting the Showdown had not run at a deficit, he acknowledged that “it could have been a devastating loss . . . [this] is a family-promoted event and we just cannot gamble like that.”

With sponsorship plans for the fourth running of the Showdown not coming to fruition, and regional touring series finalizing their 2020 schedules, Guptill felt it was best to make an early decision regarding the event’s fate.

LOOKING BACK: Familiar faces dominate in Short Track Showdown

Guptill organized the New England Short Track Showdown in 2017 as a showcase of weekly and touring short-track competition at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, the largest and perhaps most recognized speedway in the northeast. Since its opening in 1990, the “Magic Mile” has long played a role in New England’s short track community, hosting NASCAR’s regional touring series as well as multiple local touring series. Area racers compare the track’s local stature to that of Daytona International Speedway on the national level.

The first two Showdowns presented four regional touring series as, in Guptill’s words, the “cornerstones” of asphalt short track racing. The Granite State Pro Stock Series and Modified Racing Series represented the higher levels of regional competition, with Guptill’s own North East Mini Stock Tour and Street Stock Showdown Series providing a more grassroots flavor.

This year’s Showdown was expanded further, with the Pro All Stars Series Super Late Models replacing the GSPSS as the top fendered class. Two additional features, for Super Streets and Sportsman Modifieds, ran on Saturday as the Showdown became a two-day spectator event. In addition, hall-of-famer “Dynamite” Dave Dion was tapped as Grand Marshal, with Dion and Maine legend Bentley Warren integrated into the day’s victory lane festivities. Well over 100 cars and teams were in the pits, with forty Street Stocks taking the green on Sunday.

While the top PASS and MRS racers had competed at NHMS in the past, many racers in the NEMST and Street Stock ranks were thrilled and honored by the opportunity to race at a track where they had only ever been spectators.

FURTHER BACK: Regional stars share glory in Second Annual NHMS Short Track Showdown

The Short Track Showdown was NHMS’ largest non-NASCAR oval track event since the one-off return of the IndyCar Series in 2011. But the Showdown represented a tremendous personal risk for Guptill as promoter. Unlike NHMS’ NASCAR-sanctioned events, the Showdown was an independent event, promoted and organized by Guptill, his family, and the associated touring series with minimal involvement from the speedway. A weather delay or other issue at the track would have been far harder for Guptill to absorb.

Guptill’s tough decision, for now, ends an event that showcased NHMS’ unique position as a national-level speedway that has a direct role in the region’s short track landscape.

Short track racing will still have the opportunity to take center stage at NHMS in 2020. NASCAR’s Whelen Modified Tour confirmed two dates at the one-mile oval. The first, in July, is in support of NHMS’ sole NASCAR Cup Series visit. The second, a 200-lap bout, will anchor a third running of September’s NASCAR-backed Full Throttle Fall Weekend. The Fall Weekend program replaced NHMS’ second Cup Series date when it was relocated to another track in 2018.

The Fall Weekend program also includes the sole visit of the ARCA Menards Series East, the former NASCAR K&N Pro Series East that once raced four times a year at Loudon. However, the Pinty’s Series, NASCAR’s only Canadian touring series, has not been confirmed for the weekend yet, with the series’ 2020 itinerary still pending.

The absence of the ARCA Menards Series East on July’s schedule and the lack of a Pinty’s Series confirmation for September present two potential openings for a regional tour to be featured as part of the track’s biggest weekends of the year. The American-Canadian Tour held that role for nine years, with the annual ACT Invitational featured as part of the fall Cup Series visit. The PASS Super Late Models seem like the most likely contender for a major supporting role, with plenty of big-track proficiency in the field and no overlap with the NASCAR Modified Tour.

And Guptill did not close the door on one of his own series appearing in an undercard role for an existing race weekend.

In its three years, the New England Short Track Showdown elevated local racers to the grandest stage in the Northeast. For drivers like Corey Hutchings and Matthew Kimball, the Short Track Showdown provided career-defining wins. For local stars like Alby Ovitt, Woody Pitkat and Eddie MacDonald, wins in the Showdown added to their legacies. And for others, the journey was reward enough.

But for now, it remains a matter of if, not when, New England’s short track racers will take center stage at NHMS again.

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Jeff Brown is a contributor to Short Track Scene. A native of New Hampshire and a long-time fan of New England racing, Brown provides a fan's perspective as he follows New England's regional Late Model touring series.

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