Departing Gossage: ‘It’s Probably Time’

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, May 14 2021

Eddie Gossage, the long-time boss at Texas Motor Speedway, is moving on. (Photos courtesy of Texas Motor Speedway)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

FORT WORTH, Texas – The man synonymous with all the Speed! Danger! Fun! generated by Texas Motor Speedway is preparing to permanently exit the premises.

Eddie Gossage will relinquish his duties as TMS president and general manager following the NASCAR All-Star Race weekend on June 13. Gossage, 62, will close the book on three-plus decades with Speedway Motorsports Inc., the company founded by NASCAR Hall of Famer O. Bruton Smith and run by his son, Marcus, as president and CEO.

“The timing just feels right after 32 years with the company,” Gossage said Thursday. “The Smith family and Speedway Motorsports changed my life and I will forever be appreciative and grateful.

“Marcus and I talked about it last summer and I said, ‘It’s probably time.’ He told me to think about it and be certain. I told him in late November, early December, ‘Yeah, it is time.’ ” Gossage said Smith suggested he stay on through the inaugural NASCAR All-Star Race at TMS as an exclamation point on his career.

“I’ve had a great time working on this race,” Gossage said. “But on July 1 I’ll be packing up boxes and getting stuff out of my office. There’s a nice symmetry to 25 years.”

Make it 26 years. On April 11, 1995, Gossage stood in a wind-swept cow pasture at the intersection of Interstate 35 West and Texas State Highway 114 and officially introduced North Texas to SMI’s modus operandi by “blowing stuff up.”

Eddie Gossage, left, was joined by high-profile American racing stars at the 1995 ground-breaking ceremony in Texas.

The fireworks and histrionics that marked TMS’ groundbreaking ceremony scattered NASCAR Cup Series champion and native Texan Terry Labonte, brother Bobby and rising superstar Jeff Gordon as well as invited civic leaders and media.

“Just trying to do things bigger,” Gossage recalled with a laugh, “and tell everybody here, ‘You ain’t seen nothing like this. We might be new here _ but watch this!’^”

Gossage is one of SMI’s longest-tenured employees. Bruton Smith appointed Gossage general manager of TMS in 1995 and added the title of president in 2004. During Gossage’s tenure, TMS has hosted millions of fans at NASCAR, NTT IndyCar Series and World of Outlaws races, produced car shows and concerts featuring The Rolling Stones, ZZ Top and Willie Nelson. In 2015, TMS unveiled the world’s largest LED high-definition television, the 22,704-square-foot “Big Hoss.”

Gossage, who survived a bout with an undisclosed form of cancer in 2010, said his decision is not health-related. “Oh no. I’m just really blessed that at 62 I can step away,” Gossage said. “We’re not using the word ‘retirement’ because I’m too young to retire. But it’s time to close this book.

“You can’t talk about jobs, or other opportunities, when you’re 24/7 doing Texas Motor Speedway. I’ve turned down two corporate board positions, a network TV gig because I gave birth to this place and I’m not going to take my eye off the ball. Now I’m going to give myself time and if something like that comes along, great. And if it doesn’t, I don’t have to worry about it. They’ve been really good to me, wonderful to me financially, and I don’t have to worry about it.”

After working for Nashville International Raceway, Bristol International Raceway and Miller Brewing Company in motorsports management and public relations capacities, Gossage joined Speedway Motorsports in 1989 as vice president of public relations at Charlotte Motor Speedway. CMS is the hub of Smith’s racing empire in Concord, N.C.

Gossage said he is not involved with SMI’s current proposal to lease and renovate Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway. An ally of Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Roger Penske, Gossage also downplayed any interest in a position with IMS. “Only if they move it to Texas. I’m not moving anywhere,” said Gossage, who resides with wife Melinda in Southlake. “I live about 10 minutes from my grandkids (in Grapevine). I don’t have any plans.”

Eddie Gossage and Speedway Motorsports Inc. founder Bruton Smith.

Bruton Smith took Gossage under his wing as he began to purchase property near entrepreneur Ross Perot Jr.’s Alliance Development Corp. site between North Fort Worth and Denton in November 1994. The Alliance Airport site was one of three under consideration for what Gossage eventually would dub “The Great American Speedway.”

The 1,500-acre complex includes a 1.5-mile superspeedway, 194 luxury suites, 76 condominiums, a nine-story Speedway Club, Class-A office space and the 11,000-seat, four-tenths-mile Texas Motor Speedway Dirt Track.

“When I built Texas Motor Speedway, I had plenty of architects, accountants and attorneys, but what I really needed was promotion,” Bruton Smith said. “That’s where Eddie came in. They say ‘everything’s bigger in Texas’ and I needed a big personality in Dallas/Fort Worth. Eddie’s become a shrewd businessman over the years, but he’s remained a publicist at heart, and he never forgot what the entertainment business is about _ having FUN.

“I am grateful for all that Eddie has done for our company. He’s been a promoter, friend and an asset to the entire motorsports industry.”

In a letter emailed to friends and colleagues, Gossage said he has met presidents, world leaders, astronauts, scholars, world-famous athletes, actors, millionaires, billionaires and musicians…although he famously turned down an opportunity to meet Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones when they played TMS in November 1997.

“You know, here’s the deal. Five minutes after meeting Mick Jagger, Mick Jagger won’t know who I am,” Gossage said. “He doesn’t care. That didn’t have any great allure to me. That said, I bought plenty of tickets to the Rolling Stones over the years before and after that. I love the Stones’ concerts _ they’re just spectacular. But I didn’t want to meet ‘em, said, ‘No thanks.’ They were housed in the Media Center. They turned that into the Voodoo Lounge _ a club for the guys.”

In stark contrast, Gossage praised Bruton Smith as “the greatest man I’ve ever met. He’s been aware this (decision) has been coming. We have a really special relationship. I’ve learned so much from him _ him and my father _ and probably a couple other guys. Bruton, our relationship is more personal than professional and I love that guy in the truest sense of the word. A man who’s taught me so much about life, forget the racetrack.”

Gossage honed his promotional skills under the guidance of Smith and former Charlotte Motor Speedway President H.A. “Humpy” Wheeler. Gossage has, in fact, earned the title “P.T. Barnum of Motorsports” as the industry’s most innovative promoter. His branding programs at TMS have included “No Limits, Texas” and “Wild Asphalt Circus.”

When TMS played host to its first Indy Racing League race in June 1997 under the lights, it immediately became “America’s Original Nighttime IndyCar Race.” A boxing-inspired Tale of the Tape promotion greeted fans and media after the 2005 Indianapolis 500, pitting race-winner Dan Wheldon against Danica Patrick, whose fourth-place finish as a rookie launched “Danicamania” nationwide.

American racing icon A.J. Foyt and Eddie Gossage.

“First, the racing promoter and me are two different people,” Gossage said. “I’m a much quieter and shy person than people really think when they get to know me. I do love color and my life is full of colorful characters, Kyle Petty and other friends. I provide the laugh track to all these colorful people. But if people say that about me (as promoter), that’s a monstrous compliment. It tells me they appreciate what I do. I don’t know that it’s true…but I’m proud of it. It’s somewhat embarrassing but it’s very nice that people say that.”

Marcus Smith termed Gossage’s contributions to SMI and the speedway’s impact on Texas during his career as immeasurable. “Beyond the big events, wild pre-race shows and publicity stunts, Eddie has always been the biggest fan of the fans,” Marcus Smith said. “No one has more desire to give them a memorable experience. I’ll always be thankful for his dedication to our company and the inspiration he’s given our staff to always put the fans first.”

Gossage recalled that Ed Clark, who retired from similar duties at sister SMI facility Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Ga., last year, gave him his first motorsports job.

“This is 42 seasons I’ve been in Cup, started when I was 20,” Gossage said. “Back then, Ed was 23 and I was 20 and we ran two Cup tracks, Nashville and Bristol. One of the things I learned from Ed is the garage is full of sharks. It was very shark-infested and I learned from Ed the way to really stand out, the way for you to get everybody’s attention, was to be the honest guy in the garage. If you say something, you do it. That’s always been one of the things I’ve tried to do.”

Speedway Motorsports will launch a nationwide search for Gossage’s successor. Gossage said Marcus Smith has not asked him to name a candidate. “If he asked me I would have a name for him,” Gossage said. “But I don’t suspect he’ll ask me because it’s none of my business. My business will be wrapped up June 13.”

Gossage admitted TMS went through a period of growing pains beginning with the inaugural NASCAR Interstate Batteries 500 race weekend in April 1997. The Cup event, played before a sellout crowd of 200,000, was marked by a pre-race traffic jam that stretched for miles and wet parking lots. And a massive, 13-car accident entering Turn 1 on the opening lap prompted NASCAR’s ire and an eventual track re-design and repave in May 1998.

That project included modifications to the entrances and exits of the 24-degree banked turns, elimination of the 8-degree “dual banking” concept championed by Gossage and a new drainage system. The latter was in response to a wet “weeper” section in Turn 1 that forced cancellation of qualifying for the Texas 500 Cup Series race in April 1998…and raised more NASCAR ire. Completed in 37 days, the project cost approximately $4-million.

“Some of those moments I’m not proud of,” Gossage said. “I really can’t think of anything I’m proud of to speak of in the first couple of seasons, those were embarrassing. But by year six, seven _ if we were an expansion team losing every game in 1997 and 1998, by year six or seven we were the World Series champions. We were the Super Bowl champions. We beat everybody. Attendance and the overall production of a race, of a big event, we were at the top of the heap. There was a period of time when we were at the top of the heap. And I’m really proud of our team reaching that point.

Eddie Gossage, former U.S. President George W. Bush and Bruton Smith at TMS.

“Hard to stay there. But from an attendance standpoint and producing the event _ to efficiently handle traffic and parking and ticket stubbing at the gate and concessions and suites and garage parties and on and on _ nobody did them at that level. We raised the bar.”

Gossage said TMS, and the industry, remain in the early stages of recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic that impacted the 2020 season for all sanctioning bodies.

“If I have any regret, it’s that we’re still under pandemic conditions,” Gossage said. “Fans are not as open to going to an event right now as they were five years ago. And it’s going to be a while before they are. I would love nothing more than to have every seat in the house sold for the NASCAR All-Star Race as my personal finale. But that’s not going to happen, and I know that. That’s the regret.” 

Tickets for Texas Motor Speedway’s 2021 major event season, including the June 13 NASCAR All-Star Race, are on sale now at texasmotorspeedway.comFans can keep track of all of Texas Motor Speedway’s events during the 25th Season of Speed on FacebookTwitter and InstagramKeep up with all the latest news and information on the speedway website and TMS mobile app.



| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, May 14 2021
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