NASCAR & Auto Racing

3/29/98: TMS owner, NASCAR deny postponement rumor

BRISTOL, Tenn. - Texas Motor Speedway owner Bruton Smith yesterday (3-28-98) angrily denied a rumor that next Sunday's Texas 500 in Fort Worth is in jeopardy of being postponed by NASCAR because of water seepage in the racetrack's surface.

"It's all bull----," Smith said when asked about a rumor circulating yesterday throughout the garage area at his Bristol Motor Speedway. The rumor, which several drivers said they also heard on a Bristol-area radio station Friday night, had NASCAR officials contemplating postponement of the Busch Grand National Coca-Cola 300 and Winston Cup events because of continued water seepage in turns 1 and 4 of the 1.5-mile trioval.

"The track's not tearing up in Texas. That rumor's bull----," Smith said outside the NASCAR trailer in the infield of Bristol speedway, the smallest track in his Speedway Motorsports Inc. empire. "That's all that is. You find out what radio station reported the rumor and I will sue the hell out of 'em. I guarantee you I'll sick a whole damn bunch of lawyers on 'em.

"We don't have a water problem. We had one but we have cured it."

Eddie Gossage, vice president and general manager of TMS, said last week that a series of French drains were being installed at the top of the banking outside turns 1 and 3 to direct water away from the racing surface. French drains were installed at the top of Turn 4 three weeks ago, Gossage said Wednesday, to facilitate runoff caused by this spring's rainy weather.

NASCAR spokesman Jeff Motley said NASCAR president Bill France Jr. was not on the Bristol grounds during yesterday's Moore's Snacks 250 Busch Grand National race. The Food City 500 Cup race is scheduled for this afternoon.

"I'm hearing the rumors from the competitors and crewmen, and it has been on the radio," Motley said in the garage area. "It's a rumor, because we've had some guys that went down there testing that have had problems. We're aware there is a problem, and they're working on it.

"Once we get down there next week, we will look at the problem and come up with a solution. We will find a way to race, if it's not raining. There are a lot of smart people in NASCAR. If we have to build an artesian well to keep water from coming up from under the track, we'll find a way to run the race. We'll get it done."

Cup driver Kenny Wallace, who tested at TMS in cold conditions from March 11-13, said he heard the rumor Friday night "from some pretty good drivers."

"From what I heard," Wallace said, "they took and bored a big hole in Turn 1 and when they drilled the hole, water came shooting out like 10 feet. Evidently there was pressure under Turn 1.

"We'll run there next week, whether there's dust flying or whatever. But I think everybody's really upset right now that when we went down there, all the improvements are being made to the suites and stuff like that, and they will just not work on the track. All they did was make the groove a little bit lower coming off of Turn 4, and that wasn't nothing."

Last month, track management milled a 50-by-300-foot section of the Turn 4 exit and added eight inches of pavement from the wall downward to ease the transition of the 24-degree banking onto the relatively flat, 5-degree frontstraight dogleg. Last summer, TMS management added five feet of pavement to the bottom of the exit of Turn 4 to create more passing room on a track that was tagged as "one-groove," meaning single-file racing, during initial Cup testing a year ago.

Wallace, Ford teammate Bill Elliott and Pontiac driver Todd Bodine all tested from March 11-13. But Terry Labonte and Ricky Craven of Hendrick Motorsports and Team Sabco's three-car lineup of Sterling Marlin, Joe Nemechek and Wally Dallenbach Jr., and rookie Jerry Nadeau all were prevented from testing March 16-18 because of wet weather.

Last Monday, Dallenbach returned and scraped the Turn 4 wall on his first hot lap of testing. He immediately blamed a wet spot for his slip. Team Hendrick's Jack Sprague and Randy LaJoie also never turned a wheel in their research and development Chevrolets on Tuesday or Wednesday because of seepage in turns 1 and 4.

"Me and Bill Elliott and Todd Bodine are the luckiest people. We were able to run hard," Wallace said. "A lot of teams went down there to test and when there was no rain or nothing, the water was pouring out of Turn 1 and they couldn't even get on the track.

"I know there's a lot of aggravated people here."

Smith clearly was agitated by the latest shot at his $110 million, 156,061-seat facility.

"I am ticked off," said Smith, who noted that the grandstands were sold out for next Sunday's race. Last year's Cup event drew 185,000 fans.

"You can go down the line here and say to Kenny Wallace you heard a rumor you won't be racing in Texas, and Kenny will add something to it," Smith said. "You can go to another driver and say that, you start more bull----. Stop the trash."

Ford star Dale Jarrett, winner of last week's Cup race at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, said he heard the rumor from several people - but nothing from NASCAR.

"I would think that if there was anything like that postponement happening, they would be the first to tell us," Jarrett said. "We've had problems at places before with water seepage. I'm sure they're working to get it fixed, and we'll be ready to race next week.

"NASCAR understands there's certainly a lot more involved than just the competitors. There are people around the United States that take their annual vacation to go to the Texas race. There's a lot more than just us competitors getting there and putting on the show."

Jeff Burton, winner of the inaugural Cup race at TMS on April 6, said he also had heard the rumors, but downplayed talk of a postponement.

"I can about guarantee you that won't happen," Burton said. "You don't postpone races unless there was an earthquake or something that tore the track apart. That won't happen."