Eddie Gossage was struck a buzz that had been missing lately at Texas Motor Speedway. As he mingled with fans this past weekend, he said, he noticed an infectious enthusiasm during the three days of playoff races at TMS.
Maybe it was the revamped track, Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s farewell or the pressure of the playoffs, but fans were back.
“This is purely anecdotal: some of the people that turned out that haven’t been of late,” said Gossage, the track’s president. “And it was really exciting to see some people that used to come out and haven’t in a while and were back.”
The Star-Telegram caught up with Gossage to talk about Earnhardt, Kevin Harvick’s elusive Cup victory and the traditional gun celebration in Victory Lane.
Kevin Harvick, the winner, mentioned after the race you and him have had a back-and-forth over the years. What has your relationship with him been like and what was it like to see him win?
Kevin and I are really good friends, and I have great appreciation for him as a racer. He is tough. He could hold seminars for people. We talk business a lot. When I see him at the race track, he’s won truck races on Friday nights, he’s won Xfinity races on Saturday, but he’d never won a Cup race here in Texas.
So, several years ago, every time I saw him I told him ‘Hey man, we have Victory Lane on Sundays here too.’ And he’d laugh at me, or if he saw me coming he’d say I’d need to get new material and we’d laugh ...
He called me one day and he said: ‘You know somebody told me there are three race tracks I hadn’t won at, and the only one I could remember was Texas because of you.’ And I said ‘My job is to be a promoter, and I am doing my job.’...
We’ve always had a great relationship. Kevin is the kind of guy, and I am too, if you like somebody, you needle them and bust their chops. And I like Kevin a lot, and I think Kevin likes me a lot, and so we give each other a hard time.
Over the weekend you extended your title sponsor deal with AAA. How did that deal come about, and why are they the right fit as a partner?
From our standpoint, and you’re seeing this in Fort Worth with the Colonial, sponsors are so critical to have. I hope the Colonial is able to find a great sponsor, because what a tragedy it would be to lose a big part of what makes Fort Worth great. In our case, it’s the same deal. Without a sponsor it’s hard to have these huge events that cost tens of millions of dollars to put on.
We’ve had this relationship with AAA, and they’ve been tremendous partners and friends, really easy to work worth, and I believe they would say the same thing about us. We were coming to the end of our current contract, and you’re always trying to get your sponsor to renew, and they did. They picked us because when you think of AAA, you think of roadside service, which is only part of what they do.
It’s just a perfect, natural fit. And then they have insurance as well, which is the biggest part of their company, and a lot of people don’t realize that. We’ve gotten to know them through the years, both AAA Texas and Auto Club, which is the parent based out of Southern California.
After the tragic events that occurred [Sunday] at Sutherland Springs you chose not to have the traditional shooting of guns for the winner in Victory Lane. How did that decision come about?
There wasn’t a great deal of discussion about it. I feel like I am pretty sensitive to things myself, and I asked a couple of members of our executive team what they thought. At the end of the day, it wasn’t a political decision.
How can I say this? It wasn’t a political thing, it was a human thing. I don’t view the six-shooters in Victory Lane as anything other than a funny, little stereotypical celebration of the West. You’ve seen it in movies and I like that. It’s nothing more than that.
The drivers love it and the media loves it because they run it on the front-page of the paper or the TV news. You see the wire service moves the photo all around the globe, and you see a driver with a cowboy hat on shooting six-shooters, you don’t think, ‘Man, I wonder if that’s in Michigan, or was that over in Pocono?’
No, you know immediately and we’re fortunate enough to have these icons here in Texas. But it wasn’t hard to figure out. Incredibly sensitive to a tragedy like that occurring so close to us. It’s out of respect for those poor victims and their families and friends.
The guns will be back for the next celebration, but yesterday just didn’t seem to be the right time. It wasn’t a difficult decision, no big deliberation. When I was informed about the tragedy I grabbed my iPad and ran through the breaking news stories, and said ‘OK, we’ll just take a pass on it,’ and I told Kevin, and he said, ‘That’s 100 percent right,’ and that was that.
What was it like to see Dale Earnhardt Jr. race here for his final time as a full-time driver, considering he won his first Cup race here, not to mention everything he’s done for the sport?
I’m like the fans, it’s bittersweet. You want him to do the right thing for him and [his wife] Amy, and the little girl to come. You want him to have a great life after racing.
And that means not struggling with issues caused by anything in racing. He’s certainly made the right call. ...
At the same time, it’s been 38 seasons of Cup racing, and next year will be the first time I’ve promoted a Cup race without Dale Earnhardt Sr. or Dale Earnhardt Jr. in it. And that will be a little different.
Q: How did you end up doing with attendance and did the longer time of the race factor in?
I’m not at liberty to talk about specific numbers, but I would tell you that it was a nice little increase from last year, and we were happy about it. It was a good weekend.
Like I said before, the unscientific thing was that I felt and heard that there was a buzz about the race that had been missing for a few years. It was all right. Obviously you want to sell the place out and have standing room only. But that doesn’t happen in sports any longer, period.
Someone sent me photos from NFL stadiums around the league yesterday, and you’ve never seen them like this before. It’s a different world we’re in. I don’t know anyone’s calling the Cowboys calling the asking them ‘How many people did you draw? You didn’t have that many people.’ Because we drew more than that. It’s all relative.