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Gossage Welcomes F1 To Austin; Not IRL To Houston

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 27 2010

Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage says he has no problems with Formula One coming to Texas. But the IRL to Houston? Not for it. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Fort Worth, Texas – Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage says he would not consider the announced addition of Austin to the 2012 Formula One schedule as “an invasion” of Speedway Motorsports Inc.’s Lone Star State turf.

“I hope they have success because that’s what makes more race fans,” said Gossage, referring to an announcement on Tuesday. “It’s not the type of racing we’re engaged in. I follow it…but we would never have an interest in F1 racing here. The kind of racing they do vs. the kind of racing we do…it’s not some sort of ‘invasion’ of our turf. Hopefully it creates more race fans.”

However, F1’s still sketchy plans for Austin do not mean Gossage is operating an “open-door” policy regarding TMS’ domestic open-wheel racing partner, the Indy Racing League, concerning the rumored addition of a street-race in Houston to a future IZOD IndyCar Series schedule.

“There’s been some discussion about it, but it would be problematic,” Gossage said prior to heading to Indianapolis Motor Speedway for Thursday’s Media Day activities surrounding the 94th Indianapolis 500 on Sunday. TMS’ 1.5-mile quadoval will play host to IndyCar ’s Firestone 550k – billed as “America’s Original Nighttime IndyCar Race” – on June 5.

“There’s a difference between running an F1 race in Texas and another IndyCar race in Texas,” said Gossage, whose facility has played host to 20 IndyCar events since June 1997. “We contend this is our turf for NASCAR and IndyCar, and if they (IndyCar management) want to put in jeopardy their most successful race outside of Indianapolis, that (a Houston event) would sure do it.

“These temporary street circuits come and go all the time – mostly they go. And if that’s where their future is – if they want to roll the dice on Houston – I hope they have a great, brief time in Houston.”

Gossage said he did not anticipate discussing that specific issue with Randy Bernard, the IRL’s first-year chief executive officer, during his weekend stay in Indianapolis. “I don’t see any reason that we would have a discussion,” Gossage said, “because they know our position.”

Meanwhile, Gossage indicated he is intrigued by speculation surrounding F1’s first foray into Texas since the one-and-done Dallas Grand Prix through the streets of Fair Park in July 1984. Bernie Ecclestone, president/CEO of the Formula One Group which administers the series’ commercial rights, also oversaw the venture in Dallas. Ecclestone reportedly is working with Tavo Hellmund, owner of Austin-based Full Throttle Productions LP, as designated promoter of the latest iteration of the U.S. Grand Prix.

No track specifics, nor a  date, have been announced for the inaugural F1 race in Austin, which according to the website would play host to the series from 2012 to 2021. Ecclestone said the Austin track would be the first constructed from the ground-up specifically for F1 in the United States.

To that point, the ”Austin Business Journal” reported Wednesday  the state governor’s and comptroller’s offices sent a letter to Ecclestone on April 7 outlining a $25-million-per-year state government incentive offer over a 10-year term, which could be terminated if Full Throttle Productions failed to secure the race. F1’s newest and palatial facilities in Bahrain and Abu Dhabi reportedly have paid hosting fees in excess of $25-million.

Led by Tony George, former CEO of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, that iconic facility played host to F1 from 2000 through 2007 after management spent multi-millions on F1-only garages and hospitality facilities, and a course combining sections of the 2.5-mile oval with an infield road-circuit. The initial race drew an enthusiastic international audience of over 200,000 fans. But Ecclestone became increasingly critical of an event that failed to retain a corporate title sponsor because of what he perceived as a lack of promotional efforts by the Speedway and leaders of a city deemed boring by F1’s jet-setting clientele.

The Austin metro area is about a three-hour drive from a Dallas-Fort Worth market that in addition to two successful NASCAR Sprint Cup Series weekends and an IndyCar race at TMS also features NHRA championship drag racing at Billy Meyer’s Texas Motorplex in Ennis.

“I’d love to see the F1 thing happen,” Gossage said, “but it’s a very steep hill to climb in a lot of directions. F1 hasn’t worked…hosting an F1 event hasn’t worked in the United States the last 30 years. Whether it was Watkins Glen or Las Vegas or Detroit or Dallas or Phoenix or Indianapolis, it just hasn’t worked. So it’s a very tall order. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is kind of like the New York Yankees of Speedways and they couldn’t make it financially feasible for them. If they can’t do it, I don’t know who can do it in this country.

“I don’t think they (Full Throttle) helped themselves with an announcement with no details. That raises more questions than it answers. We’ll see. It’s just this side of impossible to build a speedway today and I think it would be extremely difficult (for F1), considering the political climate of Austin, Texas.”

Gossage said he never has spoken with Hellmund, a native of Mexico, although rumblings about F1 in Austin have been circulating for several months. Gossage said Full Throttle reportedly has been involved with promotions at Thunderhill Raceway in Kyle. Thunderhill Raceway is a three-eighths-mile, D-shaped paved oval sanctioned by the American Speed Association. The track also is home to the Texas Super Racing Series for short-track competitors.

“More power to ‘em (Full Throttle),” said Gossage, who added there also never was any contact between Ecclestone and SMI, the motorsports empire fronted by CEO/chairman O. Bruton Smith. “We never heard from Bernie or anyone in F1, and it wouldn’t be something we would have an interest in unless there was some drastically different kind of business arrangement than Formula One has gone into. (But) why would they give us a deal that nobody else is receiving?”

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

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 27 2010
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  • dallas says:

    “The Austin metro area is about a 90-minute drive from a Dallas-Fort Worth market…”

    HA! Maybe in a Formula 1 car! The quickest I have ever made that drive on IH-35 (the WORST highway ever) is 2.5 hours, and that was averaging 95mph+.

    • John says:

      Point taken, dallas. Last time I drove to Round Rock/Austin was in the spring of 2003 en route to New Orleans and the NCAA Final Four. That trip was a blur, in many ways. So, 90-minutes on that stretch of I-35 today will more acurately get you to Waco…a nice place to stop for a gas-n-go.