By Doug Ireland
---- — While some travelers will be frowning when they hit New Hampshire’s highways this weekend, merchants and state tourism officials will be smiling.
The roads are expected to see thousands more vehicles than usual, and it’s not even peak foliage season yet.
That’s because it’s Sprint Cup weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon.
“We’re expecting to draw over 100,000 people,” Speedway spokeswoman Kristen Costa said.
That includes 37,700 vehicles making the trek to Loudon, according to New Hampshire Department of Transportation spokesman William Boynton.
NASCAR fans started arriving as early as last weekend, including many campers, Costa said. Only 5,000 tickets for the race Sunday were still available as of Tuesday, she said. The race starts at 2 p.m.
Today is also the beginning of the four-day New Hampshire Highland Games & Festival in Lincoln, an event that attracts thousands of people to the Granite State each fall to watch the competition in Scottish feats of strength.
The two events pump millions of dollars in tourism revenue into the state’s economy, according to Tai Freligh, spokesman for the New Hampshire Division of Tourism and Travel Development.
The Sylvania 300 Sprint Cup Series alone generated an estimated $200 million last year as race fans piled into New Hampshire’s restaurants, hotels and stores.
Another $200 million is expected to pour in this weekend, he said.
“It’s probably one of the biggest weekends of the foliage season,” Freligh said. “It’s a huge economic impact.”
Although some leaves are just starting to turn in Southern New Hampshire, they have already done so in northern parts of the state, he said.
“It’s already looking amazing,” Freligh said. “The red and orange bring the green.”
Green as in money, that is.
The Institute for New Hampshire Studies estimates about 7.8 million people will come to New Hampshire this fall — 2 percent more than last autumn.
That’s based on factors that include spending patterns, gas prices weather and last year’s figures.
Division director Lori Harnois said the 2 percent increase in tourists means big bucks for the state’s economy.
“More than spending time, these visitors will spend over $1 billion, which is up about 3 percent over last year.”
Michael Somers, president and CEO of the New Hampshire Lodging & Restaurant Association, said it should be a profitable weekend for the hospitality industry. The association represents approximately 3,500 businesses.
“It’s a very nice influx of visitors to the state,” he said. “It’s definitely a positive impact on the economy.”
In anticipation of the busy travel weekend, New Hampshire State Police will be deploying additional troopers near the racetrack but not the rest of the state, according to Capt. John LeLacheur.
State police and the Hampshire Department of Transportation issued an advisory, saying motorists should expect traffic delays late Sunday afternoon and in the early evening because of the race.
Route 106, Interstate 393 and Interstate 93 are to be the most affected, Boynton said.