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Sources: Bahre agrees to sell NHIS

The future of NASCAR racing in New England seems clouded by uncertainty after sources with knowledge of the deal indicated last night that O. Bruton Smith, CEO and chairman of Speedway Motorsports Inc., had entered into an agreement to purchase New Hampshire International Speedway from Bob Bahre, the track's 80-year-old chairman who is among a rare breed in NASCAR: the independent track owner/operator.

A press conference is expected to be held tomorrow at Texas Motor Speedway, one of six SMI-owned racing venues that stage 10 Nextel Cup events. With the acquisition of NHIS, that stands to grow to 12 Cup dates.

Efforts to reach Bahre last night were unsuccessful. Reached last night, NHIS spokesman Fred Neergaard said, "There's nothing new to report." An SMI source, however, indicated Smith had reached an accord with Bahre, but was not clear as to the terms.

SMI's racing empire includes Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., and Las Vegas Motor Speedway, which host one Cup event, and Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, Atlanta Motor Speedway, Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C., and Texas, which host two Cup dates.

Texas won its second Cup date as part of a lawsuit settlement stemming from a complaint brought by Francis Ferko, an SMI shareholder, against NASCAR and International Speedway Corp.

Smith acquired his first Texas date and Bahre his second NHIS date after they partnered in 1996 to purchase North Wilkesboro (N.C.) Speedway and split its two Cup dates. NASCAR, though, must approve and sanction all dates and race locations before any changes are made to the schedule. NASCAR, which has released its 2008 Sprint Cup schedule, has signed agreements with tracks for all 36 races next season.

NHIS has two pivotal dates on NASCAR's Cup schedule: July's Lenox Industrial Tools 300, the first of 10 events in the Race to the Chase; and September's Sylvania 300, the first of 10 events in the Chase for the Cup. On Sept. 16, when the Red Sox hosted the Yankees at Fenway Park and the Patriots hosted the Chargers at Gillette Stadium, NHIS officials announced the crowd of 101,000 for the Sylvania 300 marked the track's 26th consecutive sellout.

NHIS's strong attendance figures and attractive dates made Bahre's 1.058-mile oval in Loudon a target for potential suitors. Bahre has long resisted overtures, but only recently seemed to express his desire to sell when he predicted after the Sylvania 300 that his track "someday is going to have to be sold."

It had long been speculated that if NHIS were to be sold to Smith, it would take him no time to strip the track of its Cup dates. But, the SMI source suggested, that may not be the case. While NHIS could lose its July date to Las Vegas, SMI could salvage NHIS's spot on the NASCAR schedule by swapping Chase dates with Texas, thus making it the start of the Chase.

"Bruton's a businessman," the source said. "He sees how well they've done up there."

In September, Bahre intimated that if he sold, it would be his desire to see NASCAR racing remain in New England.

"This has always been racing country, not just New Hampshire but New England," Bahre said at the time. "It'll always be run as a racetrack, but you just hope that whoever bought it would keep both dates here. I'd certainly want to see the dates stay here."

Michael Vega can be reached at vega@globe.com.

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