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New England Nationals

For this weekend's New England Nationals, Epping is the center of the drag-racing world

EPPING -- Local police are preparing for heavy traffic and the hospitality industry is gearing up for some big business as more than 20,000 drag racing enthusiasts are expected to pack New England Dragway for this weekend's inaugural Auto-Plus NHRA New England Nationals.

Police are used to large events at the dragway, but nothing that compares to the volume of competitors and spectators expected this weekend when the National Hot Rod Association brings the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series to New England for the first time.

Local officials said they believe they've worked out a traffic pattern that should keep things moving, and they feel enough security will be on hand to address any other issues during the nationally televised races, which begin today and wrap up Sunday.

"I think that this is going to have a positive impact on the community. We're hoping that people act appropriately to ensure that we don't have any major problems," Epping Police Chief Michael Wallace said.

In addition to security provided by the NHRA and the dragway, Wallace said an extra 15 to 20 officers will be working the event each day through the weekend. The help will come from the Brentwood, Epping, and Exeter police departments, New Hampshire State Police and the Rockingham County Sheriff's Department.

Wallace said his biggest concern is traffic.

"We've been meeting for almost a year about it. There will be kinks, but we'll just have to work them out as we go," he said.

According to the traffic plan, spectators traveling east on Route 101 will use Exit 8 in Brentwood and take a right into the dragway where they'll follow signs to parking areas. Those heading west on Route 101 will take Exit 9 in Exeter and turn right onto Route 27 (Epping Road) and proceed to the track where signs will direct them to parking locations.

Competitors in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series and the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, which will also be showcased this weekend, are encouraged to arrive early in the day and have their car passes visible. All competitors and vehicles with visible car passes will be directed to exit Route 101 via Exit 8. Signs will direct them to designated parking areas.

While the event may bring some traffic headaches, local hotels and restaurants say it'll be good for business.

Rooms at the Hampton Inn in nearby Exeter are sold out for Friday and Saturday.

"We started receiving calls last year at about the time they announced they were going to be doing the national race," said Amy Griswold, the hotel's director of sales.

Many racing teams have booked rooms, along with fans planning to attend.

After the Hampton Inn sold out, the hotel began recommending other hotels in the Portsmouth and Manchester areas.

Chris Felch, front desk associate at La Quinta Inn & Suites in Manchester, said the hotel was also sold out Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

"We're really busy this weekend," he said.

The Holiday Inn Express in Durham was booked up as well as others.

Many restaurants are also planning for a big weekend.

Goody Cole's Smokehouse in Brentwood is one place known for catering to the racing crowd.

"We're expecting we'll be busy all this weekend," said cashier Liz Manuell.

Telly's Restaurant and Pizzeria in Epping is usually busy on a race weekend and is planning to be busier than normal this weekend.

"It should help the area out," Telly's owner Kosta Danos said of the race and its impact on the local economy.

Other restaurants were adding more workers in anticipation of big crowds.

"We're going to try to double our staff to get ready for it," said Khalad Sarid, manager at the Holy Grail Restaurant and Pub in Epping.

jschreiber@newstote.com



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