Tony Stewart will always be linked to a fatal accident in August 2014 on a dirt track in upstate New York, fairly or not.
Stewart was not criminally charged in the incident and has stated it was an accident that tragically took the life of driver Kevin Ward Jr.
Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage has been among the most vocal supporters of Stewart since that accident and had no reservations using Stewart’s name for next month’s dirt track races.
Gossage said the ‘Tony Stewart’s Texas Sprint Car Nationals Presented by Machinery Auctioneers’ dirt races on April 7-8 may be “the most exciting thing” about TMS’ spring race weekend.
As bad as you feel for that young man and his family, you also want to support Tony. Tony’s been good to us and upfront with us, so we’re excited to have him. That [accident] has nothing to do with Friday and Saturday night.
TMS president Eddie Gossage on Tony Stewart
And he dismissed any notion that Stewart’s name shouldn’t be used because of an accident almost three years ago.
“What happened in New York has nothing to do with — in my book — Tony and has nothing to do with our races next Friday and Saturday night,” Gossage said during the track’s media day at Gilley’s on Thursday. “Horrible and unfortunate as it is, and sadly a shadow of it may follow Tony for a long, long time, but that one wasn’t his fault. I hate it for him.
“As bad as you feel for that young man and his family, you also want to support Tony. Tony’s been good to us and upfront with us, so we’re excited to have him. That [accident] has nothing to do with Friday and Saturday night.”
Stewart, a three-time NASCAR champion, retired from the series after last season.
IndyCar driver Graham Rahal won one of the most thrilling races in TMS a year ago, edging out James Hinchcliffe by .0080 of a second to capture the Firestone 600.
That earned him some fans in Texas, of course. But being friends with Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott may even be a bigger boost to his popularity down here. Rahal, an avid Ohio State fan, got to know Elliott during his college days.
Elliott, along with teammates Dak Prescott, Tyron Smith and Zack Martin, were among the Cowboys’ contingent in attendance when IndyCar made its initial visit in June, and Rahal is hoping to use his connections going forward.
“Obviously Zeke and Dak had a helluva year last year, which was awesome,” Rahal said. “Maybe we can get them back out this year. … Anything that we can do to help Eddie put fans in the stands — however that comes, through relationships or whatever — it doesn’t matter. The goal for us is to help build a brand and make IndyCar successful.”
Speaking of attendance, Gossage said the track’s buy-one-get-one-free and $10 children tickets have been “a real hit” and expects a sizable crowd on race weekend.
The buy-one-get-one-free offer was so popular, Gossage said, that the track had to cut it off because there were no more seats in the designated sections.
“We’ve had a great response, about double what we expected,” Gossage said. “And children’s tickets are free for every event except the main event of the three race weekends. That’s about creating fans for tomorrow.”