Mac Engel

Texas Motor Speedway was once a racing gem. Now it’s too big and needs an overhaul.

Eddie Gossage is old enough to retire but rather than quit he’s more interested in updating a facility that is now considered old and in need of a remodel.

While virtually every other sports team has given itself a new, or remodeled home, in the last 25 years in the state, Texas’ biggest motor speedway remains pretty much in the same state as the day it opened in February of 1996.

“This will be the conclusion of our 23rd season, and a modernization of the facility is due,” Gossage, the TMS president, said in an interview on Thursday.

TMS will host the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday as part of the NASCAR playoffs.

Thank you Eddie Gossage for not being another tired sports executive lobbying a politician, or a tax base, for a new facility. Walking around TMS, we don’t need a new race track.

Gossage is right, however, in that the place needs some remodeling. It’s too big. It lacks modern-day sports amenities.

An update, and a hard look in the mirror, are what both TMS and NASCAR require.

“We are trying to re-imagine what the experience will be like at TMS. That’s a priority, but we don’t know what we need to exactly do. We need to do something,” Gossage said. “We are trying to figure out what specifically that is, and how it will look. It’s still a special place. You can still see the entire track from every seat.

“And the Big Hos’ (jumbotron) is the biggest TV in the world.”

TEXAS SHOULD BE LIKE KANSAS OR AT LEAST DAYTONA

Gossage said the capacity at TMS is currently 135,000.

“The truth is today is we have too many seats,” he said.

He’s right. And it’s no knock.

Every big venue stadium across the U.S. in auto racing and football were built in eras that predated WiFi, streaming, and 110-inch HD television sets.

When Dayton International Speedway went through its renovation process a few years ago, it reduced its seating capacity to 101,000.

There are only two races in the United States that should expect to fill a six-figure seat venue: the Indianapolis 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and the Daytona 500.

Both have the advantage of being an international tourist destination event as well as the top date on their respective circuit.

Bristol Motor Speedway still seats 146,000, but the fall race no longer comes close to drawing to capacity.

No other tracks other than Daytona and Indy should be bigger than 100,000.

Gossage won’t say it, because he likely does not believe it, but TMS should be about 80,000 to 90,000. That would neither the biggest, nor the smallest, capacity on the NASCAR schedule.

It would give him a better chance to boast a sellout, which creates the hope of a demand, and a better-looking product with butts in seats. Even if everyone there is on their phones.

Considering where the track is located, with its potential pull from Oklahoma, all of Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana, filling up a venue of approximately 85,000 is an attainable goal.

THE FUTURE OF TMS

Gossage is an optimist with just enough honest that his sales pitch works.

“There is nowhere in our grandstand people can charge their phones,” he said. “We recognize people want that and expect that now. We need that.”

Expect TMS to follow the path that other stadiums and new arenas have established: Increased opportunities for cellphone charging, improved WiFi service, and a wider variety of food and drink options.

You can certainly expect more club level-type seats. Expect more communal areas where people can drink and eat with the race “on in the background.”

“The easiest thing to do is appease the top of the line, and the bottom of the line,” Gossage said.

The top of the line wants the suite experience at any price. The bottom of the line wants a cheap ticket.

“What we’re trying to do is figure out the middle so we can appeal to them,” Gossage said.

When TMS unveiled its “Busch ReStart Bar” it was just an experiment. The bar is away from the “noise” of the cars, and a place where fans can socialize while taking in the race experience.

That’s a fixture now, as is a similar deck-style seating at The Speedway Club. People want to go to the games, and have the comfort of a living room.

NASCAR is not dead, nor is it dying. NASCAR is like every other sport in the U.S.

It grew too big, spent too much money on expansion when the fan base was not big enough to support it, and now NASCAR is experiencing the uncomfortable pains from a market correction.

TMS is 23 years old, and the track does not need to be corrected, but the facility is much like its sport: It just needs to be modernized.

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Mac Engel is an award-winning columnist who has extensive experience covering Fort Worth-Dallas area sports for 20 years. He has covered high schools, colleges, all four major sports teams as well as Olympic games and the world of entertainment, too. He combines dry wit with first-person reporting to complement a head of hair that is almost unfair.
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