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Road Trip For Fort Worth Reps

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, March 24 2010

By John Sturbin/Senior Writer

Fort Worth, Texas – One of Texas Motor Speedway’s staunchest supporters is Fort Worth mayor Mike Moncrief, a fixture at practically every major racing and corporate event scheduled at “The Great American Speedway.”

Moncrief is acutely aware that Fort Worth is competing with a number of Metroplex communities for fan traffic and their disposable dollars during the typical race weekend. In a bid to entice more fans to discover Fort Worth during NASCAR’s Samsung Mobile 500 next month, Moncrief collaborated with TMS president Eddie Gossage on a recent junket to Indianapolis – home to the Indy 500 and the self-proclaimed “Racing Capital of the World.”

“The mayor’s radar is up and he’s trying to find more and more ways the city can attract more folks,” Gossage said. “Just because race fans come to Texas Motor Speedway and it’s in Fort Worth doesn’t mean they’re automatically going to spend their dollars for accommodations and dining and stuff in Fort Worth.”

Moncrief did not make the day-long trip to Indy on March 11. In his absence, Gossage fronted a combination of four representatives from city government and the Fort Worth Convention & Visitors Bureau. The Cowtown contingent met with Kirk Hendrix, president and CEO of the 500 Festival Committee, who briefed them on how the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce and the Indianapolis Convention and Business Authority coordinate efforts with Indianapolis Motor Speedway officials on events that fill up the Month of May calendar.

The trip included a tour of Gasoline Alley at IMS conducted by Gossage, a frequent visitor to the track that is the centerpiece of the Indy Racing League. In addition to its Sprint Cup weekends in April and November, TMS plays host to a June night race that has been a staple of the IZOD IndyCar Series schedule since 1997.

“The group really got jacked-up about this trip, and about some obvious and easy ways they can roll out the red carpet,” Gossage said. “In Fort Worth, you’re going to see some things here in April you haven’t seen before _ billboards on Interstate 35 that will say “Welcome Race Fans”…light poles downtown with banners welcoming race fans…and more banners at the North and South entrances to DFW International Airport and on luggage carousels. And we’re still brainstorming.”

Gossage said Moncrief’s “antenna perked-up” last month when he noted the economic windfall generated for nearby Arlington when it hosted the NBA All-Star Game weekend at Jerry Jones’ palatial Cowboys Stadium. “The mayor is quite involved in the North Texas Super Bowl XLV Committee,” said Gossage, as the Metroplex prepares to host the NFL’s championship game on Feb. 6, 2011. “But as I’ve told him, we hold a Super Bowl twice a year.

“The mayor’s got all the right people together. We’ve had meetings with people from Sundance Square and Downtown Fort Worth Inc. I’m excited that they’re aggressive and enthused about pursuing a variety of things. You want to give fans a reason to come back to your hotels, restaurants and night clubs. Those who make the effort will reap the dividend.”

Race title sponsorships secure: New and long-term title sponsorship contracts with AAA Texas and Bridgestone America’s Firestone brand will have TMS operating from a position of economic strength in 2010 and beyond.

AAA Texas has signed-on as title sponsor of the fall NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race, a five-year deal that begins in November and runs through 2014. Formerly known as the Dickies 500, the race has been rebadged as the AAA Texas 500. It is scheduled for Sunday, Nov. 7, as Race No. 8 of the 10-event Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Meanwhile, Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations (BATO) and TMS have finalized a two-year deal with options that will see the event formerly known as the Bombardier Learjet 550k re-titled as the Firestone 550k. The event is scheduled for Saturday, June 5. Joe Barbieri, Firestone Racing Motorsports Manager, noted this will be BATO’s sole race entitlement in the series this season. The two-year contract matches TMS’ current deal with the IRL.

NASCAR’s impending visit to TMS for the Samsung Mobile 500 April 15-18 marks the first of a three-year contract renewal with Samsung, which will be marking its eighth season as a title sponsor here.

TMS president Eddie Gossage noted the facility has enjoyed a run of title sponsorships with Metroplex-based companies dating to its first Cup race in 1997, including corporate clients Interstate Batteries, RadioShack and Dickies. “Given the state of the economy it was not the ideal time (to secure new entitlements) but we were confident of the sponsorship value of the fan base Texas Motor Speedway brings to the table for potential sponsors,” Gossage said. “It’s a really good position on everything, and that says something about business.

“But to me it says something about treating people right. It says something about where we stand in the pecking order. There’s about 25 NASCAR races right now that don’t have a sponsor. And so I think that says something about where we rank in the universe, the food chain, of racing facilities where our market is really important. I always remind NASCAR the racetracks are 22 PR and marketing agencies that they don’t pay. We’re out spreading the message of NASCAR for them. They don’t always like how we spread it, but that’s their fault.”

Gossage noted that both the Dickies and Bombardier contracts expired. “Dickies told us last May or June that they would not be renewing with us,” Gossage said. “With Bombardier, right now it’s a tough sell for private planes. We had a couple opportunities with different folks and really like Triple AAA.”

As part of the deal with AAA, its members will enjoy extra benefits at TMS events, including “AAA Fast Lanes” _ exclusive access to express lines into the facility. AAA also will provide 11 shuttle buses and 20 trams to move fans around the grounds on race weekends.

“Their product is far more diverse than just, ‘My car broke down, get me a wrecker,’^” said Gossage, who announced the deal with Wendy Sabins, senior VP of marketing, product management & publishing for AAA Texas. “They wanted to get into things like sponsoring our trams and buses _ a very expensive thing to do. They thought it was a great thing for them, because they’re a service business, to be providing that service. So it’s a really good fit.”

IRL race in ‘traditional’ slot: Predictably, TMS president Eddie Gossage is pleased to have the chance to be the first promoter to host the 2010 Indianapolis 500 champion. The Firestone 550k night race on Saturday, June 5, will directly follow “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” a scheduling position TMS enjoyed from 1997 to 2005, when there was a two-week promotional window between the Indy 500 and the race here.

Recently, the series visited the road-course at Watkins Glen International (2006) and The Milwaukee Mile (2007-09) before heading to TMS. Gossage contended that any buzz created by the Indy 500 champion had dissipated by time the series rolled into Fort Worth.

“Yeah, we are happy. It should never have changed,” said Gossage, claiming an IRL tradition was born with the “Original Nighttime IndyCar Race” at TMS in ‘97. “It’s those kinds of poor decisions on the part of the Indy Racing League that has it where it’s at. I’m glad that it’s back where it rightfully should be. And if they want to change it they need to go ahead and change it and enjoy their Indy-cars _ because I won’t.”

Asked if he was “throwing down a gantlet” to Randy Bernard, the IRL’s new CEO, Gossage said: “No, I threw it down a long time ago. It’s nothing new. And the thing is I love IndyCar racing. It’s probably my favorite, to be honest. And there’s some things they could do that could make the sport more marketable. It’s very good, the product on the racetrack. I’m talking about marketable, and if they’re not marketable they’re not going to be successful.”

In addition, Gossage said TMS will run a billboard campaign in Indianapolis during May pointing fans toward TMS. “We’ve bought the billboard in Indy but I haven’t figured out what we’re going to put on it yet,” Gossage said. “Maybe ‘Back Where We Belong,’ or something like that. If you look at last year, the billboard said, ‘The Next Big IndyCar Race.’ That was saying something, because there was a race between Indy at Texas (at The Milwaukee Mile).”

Kenseth scheduled for media visit: Sprint Cup star Matt Kenseth will be switching lanes when he visits with the Dallas/Fort Worth media corps Wednesday, April 7, to advance the Samsung Mobile 500 NASCAR double-header weekend at TMS. Kenseth will tour the newly opened International Bowling Museum and Hall of Fame in Arlington, where he will receive one-on-one instruction from PBA Tour players.

Kenseth, of Roush Fenway Racing, is currently second in Cup points. Kenseth stormed from the rear of the field to win the rain-delayed Samsung/RadioShack 500 here on April 8, 2002. He won the series championship in 2003 and the 2009 Daytona 500.

Dirt Track weekend shifts dates: The Texas World Dirt Track Championship will be run March 4-5 in 2011, one week later than its traditional date.

The event at the Texas Motor Speedway Dirt Track annually attracts a car count in excess of 300. It will continue to feature three divisions _ O’Reilly Auto Parts Southern United Professional Racing (SUPR) Late Model Series, Limited Modifieds and Modifieds. The change will allow competitors another week of preparation while also providing a seamless transition into the start of the dirt track season.

The schedule will again feature open practice for all classes on Thursday, March 3. On Friday, Modified and Limited Modified classes will run heats while the O’Reilly Auto Parts SUPR Late Models will conduct practice. O’Reilly Auto Parts SUPR Late Model heats, in addition to Limited Modified and Modified last-chance qualifiers, will be run Saturday. The evening will culminate with championship races in all three classes.

Jack Sullivan of Greenbrier, Ark., celebrated his first visit to Texas with a victory in the 40-lap SUPR Late Model feature last month. Meanwhile, a pair of Texans took the Limited Modified and Modified championships. Bobby Malchus of Red Oak claimed the 40-lap Modified trophy while Tim Clonch of Quinlan took the 30-lap Limited Modified title.

Pit stops: TMS president Eddie Gossage said his latest quarterly lab test confirmed that his cancer remains in remission. “I’ve been blessed,” said Gossage, who never has disclosed what form of the disease he has been battling. “The only problem with that is…it’s a shadow that’s always behind you. You never know. Will it come back this time? Every time they do a blood test you go…’I don’t feel anything.’ But I didn’t feel anything before. That’s the thing that bothers you, is that you’re always on edge. But I’m good.”

The Fort Worth Transportation Authority and TMS will provide bus service on Saturday, April 17, and Sunday, April 18, during the Samsung Mobile 500 weekend. The “Victory Lane Express” will pick up and drop off fans at the Tarrant County College Northwest Campus at 4801 Marine Creek Parkway in Fort Worth. Buses will depart beginning at 8 a.m. until 10 a.m. each day, with return trips starting 30 minutes after the race ends. The bus drop-off and pick-up is at the south end of TMS in the bus lot. Roundtrip cost is $10 per person.

Special “mosh pit” tickets for Samsung Mobile 500 pre-race festivities, featuring a concert by rocker Peter Frampton, remain available. The $79 ticket offers stage-side access for all pre-race festivities, including the concert and driver introductions.

TMS’ popular “Family 4-Pack” also remains available. The ticket package features four Samsung Mobile 500 backstretch tickets, hot dogs and 20-ounce Coca-Cola beverages for $159. Fans can purchase tickets to the Samsung Mobile 500 weekend by calling (817) 215-8500 or by visiting www.texasmotorspeedway.com.

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, March 24 2010
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