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Texas Motor Speedway Boss Busts His Humpy For Fans

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, April 5 2009
exas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage shakes hand with Dale Earnhardt Jr. before the Samsung 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. (Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)

Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage shakes hands with Dale Earnhardt Jr. before the Samsung 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. (Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)


By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Fort Worth, Texas – With the exit last year of H.A. “Humpy” Wheeler from the employ of Lowe’s Motor Speedway, Eddie Gossage has assumed the title of promoter extraordinaire at Speedway Motorsports Inc.

Gossage, president and general manager of Texas Motor Speedway, has overseen every aspect of “The Great American Speedway!” and its phenomenal growth since ground-breaking in April 1995. Given free reign by SMI chairman/CEO O. Bruton Smith, Gossage’s innovative ideas have ranged from the first nighttime IndyCar race to the first Preferred Seat License and season-ticket plans in motorsports to “Fandango,” a popular free special session with NASCAR drivers and personalities for season-ticket holders .

Gossage’s latest brainchild is “Burnout Alley,” a $2 million capital improvement project that has transformed the upper backstretch seating at TMS into 74 lavish motorcoach sites. During the offseason, work crews removed the upper backstretch sections accounting for approximately 22,000 seats that Gossage admitted were the toughest to sell.

Only the lower backstretch seats remain, now overshadowed by a lot full of recreational vehicles parked in a patio-style setting. For an annual fee of $15,000, fans can watch the race either from their RV or from a boxed-in patio. Each site includes full-service hookups for water, electric and live race feeds, concierge service for grocery and shopping, catering options, free wireless internet and 24-hour restroom service. The package also includes 10 VIP Burnout Alley passes, 10 pre-race passes for each NASCAR Sprint Cup race, 10 pit/infield passes, two access passes for The Speedway Club, 10 souvenir event programs and three reserved parking spaces nearby.

“I always have these grand ideas and when I see ‘em, I’m  inevitably disappointed,” Gossage said during one of his visits to the infield media center during NASCAR’s Samsung 500 weekend. “ You know, it’s never quite as good as I want it to be. And I went over there and sat on a patio and said, ‘This is better than I really envisioned.’

“They weren’t finished until a couple of weeks ago. I think we’ve got two of them left. The word spreading over there is ’If you don’t keep it, you’ll never get back in here again.’ One of the things we know about this market is if you service people, and give them a good product, you can charge them anything for it and they’ll pay for it. You’ve got a concierge service that delivers groceries to you…we’ll put flat-screen TVs in on your patio…we’ll put carpet down for you…you can have dinner from The Speedway Club brought over to your RV…it’s your own private little world over there inside your courtyard.

“That’s a brand new revenue stream over there. Would that work in another market? I don’t know. One of the things different about Texas is people here want to be treated well, they want service. And if you do it right, they’ll pay you anything for it.”

Gossage admittedly has toned down the volume of TMS promotions in recent years, due largely to the track’s now prominent position in a DFW sports and recreational market dominated by the Dallas Cowboys, Dallas Mavericks  and Texas Rangers.

“We’re in a tough market,” Gossage said. “You’ve got Jerry Jones, Tony Romo, Jessica Simpson, Mark Cuban, the Dallas Stars, the Breeders Cup over at Lone Star Park…so many things going on. And the Cup guys are in this huge market six days a year. So that means 359 days a year I got to do something to compete. That’s why I’ll continue to do those things.”

A disciple of Wheeler during their years together at Lowe’s Motor Speedway, Gossage said he actually took his promotional cues from two of the biggest names in American sports and pop culture.

“I always wanted to meet Muhammad Ali and Evel Knievel,” said Gossage, a native of Nashville, Tenn. “I talked to Evel a few times on the phone and (son) Robbie and I are good friends. Never met Muhammad Ali, and don’t know if I want to today. But I was drawn to them because they were such promoters. I was just fascinated by their style, their flamboyance….I didn’t know at the time I was learning promotion – watching “Wide World of Sports” and like that. That’s really where I learned it.”

Those lessons are carrying Gossage and TMS through the current economic downturn. This event is the first at TMS featuring the  “Backstretch Buster” ticket. Gossage noted that last year, backstretch tickets ranged from $45 to $90. “We lowered them all to $20 and $40,” Gossage said. “So for as little as $20 you’ve got a reserved seat to see Jimmie and Jeff and Tony and Carl and so on. You don’t have to pay to park. You can bring your own cooler. You could literally go home and have spent $20 – and that’s it.”

Meanwhile, Gossage said pre-race bookkeeping indicates that corporate spending is down for this event. “A client that last year bought  300 or 400 or 500 tickets this year is buying 100 or 200 tickets,” Gossage said. “That’s where we’ve seen some decline. Joe Fan is buying as many tickets as he’s ever bought. I think the grandstands (for today’s Samsung 500) will be about as full as they were last November, a typical Texas Motor Speedway monster crowd. But we won’t have as many hospitality tents, things like that, and that hurts you. But it’ll bounce back.”

Gossage added the gate from this race, the first of two Cup weekends on the schedule, also will be down. “Our gate will be down because we lowered prices on tickets,” Gossage said. “We lowered prices on concessions, we lowered prices on merchandise, so you can’t possibly have as big a gate because of that.

“But we look at that as an investment in the future. I mean, the point of lowering those prices is because I’ve watched other sports have strikes and lockouts. And when the players come back, the fans don’t necessarily come back with them. And if we lost fans during the economic slowdown and they found other things to do, or just lost interest, when the economy rebounds – and it will – they might not come back. So if we can keep them engaged by having a $20 ticket, then we never lost them.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, April 5 2009
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