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June 25. 2013 7:00PM

Officials: Epping drag racing event went off without a hitch

EPPING — Last weekend’s inaugural Auto-Plus NHRA New England Nationals brought more than 20,000 drag racing fans a day to the area, and despite heavy traffic and some parking problems, local officials said the event was a success and they’re looking forward to next year.

“Other than a lot of traffic, we had less than five complaints. … We were burdened with traffic, parking, and that’s it,” Epping Police Chief Michael Wallace told selectmen Monday.

It was the first time the professional drag racing event was held at New England Dragway.

Selectman Karen Falcone, who worked closely with police, fire and track officials in the months before the race, said she spent the weekend driving around town and stopping at the track to assess the situation.

“You could not tell in this town that an event was going on of that magnitude … unless you were up in the (Route 27) area. We have been planning this for months. It was amazing to see this come together the way it did,” she said.

Falcone praised the Brentwood, Epping and Exeter police and fire departments, state police and members of the Rockingham County Sheriff’s Department and other agencies that helped with public safety at the event.

Selectman Robert Jordan said he checked out the event Friday and part of Saturday and said he was impressed.

Aside from problems with shuttle buses and people parking on the side of Route 27, Jordan said the races went off “without a hitch.”

While he heard some criticisms, Wallace said “99 percent” of the comments about the event were positive. He added that no arrests were made at the dragway during the event.

Selectman Tom Gauthier said residents living on Route 27 near the track were likely affected the most during the peak traffic times.

“I went up and down 27 many, many times with no issue whatsoever. There were a couple of times when it got a little warm up there, but it’s to be expected,” Falcone said.

Police and fire officials plan to hold a debriefing on the races with representatives from the dragway on July 15.

Gauthier said the parking on Route 27 needs to be addressed when the event is held again next year.

Wallace said he’ll likely propose roping off the side of Route 27 and erecting “no parking” signs. He may also seek an ordinance that will prohibit street parking during the event.

Officials plan to talk to Brentwood and Exeter officials about the street parking because vehicles were parked on Route 27 in those towns as well.

Gauthier also wants the town to require that anyone who wants to allow parking for the event on their property go through the planning board to seek approval ahead of time.

Wallace agreed, saying it’s important for police to know the parking lots designated for the event.

“There needs to be some oversight with the parking,” he said.

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