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With fenders and without, WMMP plays unique role in starting the season

PASS @ WMMP 2020
White Mountain Motorsports Park has had a tremendous role in getting New England's pandemic-shortened racing season rolling, continuing with this weekend's inaugural NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour visit. (Oriana Lovell photo)

The last time a NASCAR touring division raced at White Mountain Motorsports Park was over twenty-five years ago. But Saturday night, in the shadows of the White Mountains, NASCAR’s oldest touring division will visit New England’s youngest short track for the first time.

The quarter-mile bullring in North Woodstock, N.H. welcomes the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour this weekend for the Independence Day 200, the second race of a heavily-revised Tour schedule for 2020.

But Saturday’s Modified showdown, the second half of a two-day double feature, is just the latest chapter of a story in which White Mountain Motorsports Park has been the setting for the opening of New England’s pandemic-delayed regional racing season.

While Claremont Motorsports Park opened a day before WMMP’s gates were unlocked, WMMP has been the focal point of racing in New England ever since. This weekend’s action comes on the heels of a busy June in which WMMP opened the 2020 seasons for the Pro All Stars Series North Super Late Models, the American-Canadian Tour Late Models, PASS’ Modified and Honey Badger Street Stock Series, and even the NELCAR Legends Tour, all while fitting in rounds of weekly competition for the track’s regular racers.

WMMP co-owner Cris Michaud is thrilled to be part of the reopening process.

“We are proud that the top tours want to come to our track,” he says.

While Michaud and business partner Pat Malone own the track today, the Avery family laid the groundwork for the facility, opening White Mountain Motorsports Park in 1993. Roughly an hour north of New Hampshire Motor Speedway, WMMP is the newest actively-operating paved oval in New England. Races for NASCAR’s Busch North Series in 1993 and 1994 helped to establish the new speedway, while visits for ACT’s Late Model Tour and the then-new PASS in the early 2000s cemented its place in the local racing ecosystem.

But as the track thrived, the Avery family’s business increased its demands as well. And while other tracks in the state were changing ownership, the Averys looked to Michaud and Malone, who had purchased Vermont’s Thunder Road International Speedbowl and the ACT sanctioning body in 2017. WMMP’s weekly divisions were modeled on the ACT rulebook, with some crossover participation between the two tracks.

“We were not looking for another race track,” Michaud said of the opportunity. “The Averys approached us and we began talking at the beginning of 2018. We were impressed by the racers and fanbase the Averys had built. … Being so close to Thunder Road and already under the ACT umbrella, it made sense to try and work a deal.”

“And, of course, we came to an agreement.”

The agreement added a second track to the portfolio of Michaud, a three-time Thunder Road champion, and real estate developer Malone. The partners took charge of the track for the 2019 season, with WMMP hosting two crown jewel events of the ACT Late Model schedule, the annual Spring Green and August’s Midsummer 250.

A similar schedule was planned for 2020, with the Spring Green and Midsummer 250 returning for the ACT Late Models and the PASS North Super Late Models scheduled for three appearances. But those plans were thrown aside when a worldwide pandemic prompted state-by-state lockdowns to curb the spread of the novel virus. The ACT’s native Vermont and PASS’ home state of Maine established some of the most strict procedures in the region, with out-of-state visitors required to self-quarantine upon arrival. Coupled with bans on large group gatherings and a cautious approach to reopening, it appeared that racing in either state would be a long time coming.

New Hampshire, on the other hand, took a more aggressive path to reopening. With low community spread in the northern counties and a more permissive approach to out-of-state visitors, northern New Hampshire became a more attractive option for motorsports. And with its direct ties to ACT and PASS, White Mountain Motorsports Park suddenly became a very viable option.

Like other tracks, WMMP staff had worked through the unexpected offseason, keeping busy with facility upgrades while waiting to spring into action as soon as they were allowed. “We are lucky we have a very loyal staff at both tracks,” Michaud says. “So when the approval was given in New Hampshire, everyone was ready to go.”

With the ACT Spring Green already on June’s schedule, the PASS North Super Late Models were the series of choice for the Sunday-afternoon touring opener, with the track’s weekly classes getting first crack at the high banks on Saturday night. The PASS teams returned two weeks later for their second race of 2020, with tonight’s 150-lap feature the fourth race of the season and the third to be held at WMMP.

READ MORE: PASS gets season off to a late start with WMMP opener

Two more scheduled visits to WMMP, in August and September, give the relationship the feel of a musician’s residency. Only PASS’ home track, Oxford Plains Speedway, has hosted more events in a single season.

The arrangement speaks volumes for the progress made over the last six years, before which PASS and ACT shared a brief but bitter rivalry. A cross-promoted weekend at Oxford in 2015 served as an olive branch, along with PASS’ first visit to Thunder Road later that spring. “Tom Curley and Tom Mayberry started doing stuff before Tom [Curley] passed,” Michaud explained. “Tom Mayberry and I have continued that relationship, and I believe it has worked well. I think it’s a great benefit to our fans and some of our drivers.”

While the scale of PASS’ attendance was notable, the announcement of a NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour date was stunning. The NASCAR Busch North Series was the first major touring series to race at WMMP, with Vermont legend Bobby Dragon winning the inaugural event in 1993 and former Oxford 250 winner Tom Rosati winning in 1994. But the series never returned to WMMP in its era as the Northeast’s premier fendered class of competition. And in its current format as the ARCA Menards Series East, a return seems unlikely.

The Modifieds, on the other hand, remain a product of New England’s rough-and-tumble short tracks, not to mention a feature attraction at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. But despite visits to many of the Granite State’s short tracks, the last Whelen Modified Tour short track event in the state was at Monadnock Speedway in 2016.

In fact, the legendary Thunder Road was in consideration for a Modified date as well, to help rebuild a schedule thus far depleted by pandemic postponements. “We were talking with [NASCAR] about a race at Thunder Road,” Michaud says. “When WMMP opened up, we started talking about WMMP and made something work for both of us.”

Whether this turns into a long-term arrangement between the Tour and WMMP or Thunder Road, neither of which are NASCAR-sanctioned tracks, remains to be seen. Said Michaud, “We will evaluate things after this one and make a decision.”

Since the ACT Spring Green, fans have been allowed in the grandstands at a reduced capacity, though an arrangement with the Vermont-based Northeast Sports Network has provided supporters with an opportunity to follow along safely from home with pay-per-view streaming coverage. “The NSN came about out of giving our fans availability to see some good racing while they were not allowed in the stands,” Michaud explained, adding that streaming coverage had not been part of the plan prior to the pandemic. The NSN arrangement also covered last week’s ACT-PASS doubleheader at Oxford Plains Speedway, where fan attendance is still on hold. The NSN will not cover Saturday’s Modified race; fans of the open-wheel cars will still be able to tune in through NBC Sports’ TrackPass service.

Pandemic recovery has been a moving target, but with the first wave of track reopenings and scheduled events, other tracks are following suit, exploring their options to best suit racers and fans alike. While all plans are subject to change, this summer’s racing schedule is slowly taking shape.

But as tracks scramble to salvage the rest of an already-short racing season, New England’s touring racers can point to the unique opportunity White Mountain Motorsports Park seized upon in order to get those wheels rolling at last.

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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.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Norm

    July 3, 2020 at 4:42 pm

    Great piece Jeff!

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