One year ago today, the World Health Organization declared the spread of COVID-19 a global pandemic, and life as we knew it came to a stop. COVID-19 forced the entertainment industry, including New Hampshire Motor Speedway (NHMS), to reinvent itself. “The Magic Mile” responded with safe forms of entertainment and an expanded focus on serving local communities during a year of unprecedented challenges.
NHMS pivoted from its traditional July race week to host a limited number of fans for a COVID-safe race day on Aug. 2, 2020. Safety protocols ensured that New England’s first fan-attended major league sporting event since the onset of the pandemic, the NASCAR Cup Series Foxwoods Resort Casino 301, would pave the way for fans to return to other live sporting events.
“2020 tested us all in ways we never imagined,” said David McGrath, executive vice president and general manager of New Hampshire Motor Speedway. “It was stressful, unsettling and scary at times, but we worked closely with the state as well as NASCAR and local health officials to develop a plan to safely host New England race fans as well as utilize our property to serve the needs of the community.”
NHMS hosted the 10th annual Gift of Lights presented by Eastern Propane & Oil from Nov. 26, 2020 through Jan. 3, 2021. The COVID-safe, socially-distant holiday drive-thru light show saw a dramatic increase in attendance as more than 29,000 vehicles cruised through the six-week event. A portion of the proceeds benefitted the New Hampshire Chapter of Speedway Children’s Charities, which resulted in a record $91,188 supporting children in need throughout New England.
NHMS supported first responders by offering a home residence on the NHMS property to allow first responders to quarantine away from their homes as needed. If the pandemic interrupted the local fuel supply chain, NHMS also offered the town of Loudon the opportunity to utilize gasoline from the speedway’s Sunoco gas pumps for essential equipment and vehicles. The speedway donated 800 rain ponchos for public safety workers to use as hospital gowns to help alleviate a shortage of proper personal protective equipment while the State of New Hampshire Emergency Operations Center secured standby space at NHMS for an overflow care facility and mobile testing site.
On May 9, 2020, the New Hampshire Food Bank, with the help of the New Hampshire Army National Guard, brought a Mobile Food Pantry to NHMS and provided nearly nine tons of food for approximately 1,200 people in Loudon, Concord, Belmont and the surrounding areas. The drive-thru Mobile Food Pantry allowed families to remain in their vehicles while volunteers loaded about 52 pounds of perishables, non-perishables and meats in each car.
Merrimack Valley High School graduates literally and figuratively crossed the finish line of their high school careers at NHMS in a special graduation event. Seniors celebrated the milestone by driving on “The Magic Mile” and crossing the start/finish line – the famed Granite Stripe – to receive their diplomas on June 13, 2020.
Most recently, NHMS was the site of New Hampshire’s first vaccine super site. In partnership with the State of New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services, nearly 12,000 Granite Staters were vaccinated with the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine March 6-8. Additional vaccine super sites could be scheduled as vaccines become available.
“I am so proud of my team and what we were able to accomplish this past year in the most unusual of circumstances,” said McGrath. “It was inspiring to watch the checkered flag fly as the final vaccine was administered this past weekend. We’re looking forward to continuing this momentum for a successful, healthy and entertaining 2021.”