Long-time and now former Texas Motor Speedway president and chief promoter Eddie Gossage has seen the best and worst of several racing series, most notably NASCAR and IndyCar. He also has not been afraid to be critical if he felt the situation or issue warranted it.
“I appreciate NASCAR. I appreciate IndyCar,” he said. “I appreciate all the sanctioning bodies. They may not have thought it at times but even in the times when I was either offering a critique or trying to create controversy, that’s what a promoter does, I didn't mean everything I said.”
We asked Gossage his thoughts on NASCAR, IndyCar and Formula 1’s foray into the U.S.
Q.) The racing industry as a whole: is it good or bad?
Eddie Gossage: “I think it’s quite healthy. I had some television exec tell me 4-5 years ago that the next TV deal was going to be smaller the next time around. I said, ‘No it’s not, it’s going to go up for Cup.’ They just laughed when I said that. I will remind him when it comes to pass that it’s going to go up (the new NASCAR TV deal was announced Nov. 29, and it included a reported 40% increase and $7.7 billion). That tells you it’s healthy. Attendance seems to be holding true, if not growing, at least for Cup.”
Q) Is Formula 1 going to pass up NASCAR or IndyCar to become the most popular racing series in the U.S.?
Gossage: “This behemoth of F1, I think it’s just another of those media things. It draws ratings comparable to Xfinity or IndyCar. The inference is Cup ought to be concerned, and that's not the case at all.
“I would also tell you my sense is, be it big events like COTA, Miami or Las Vegas, that it's peaked. Actually, I think the ratings in general are down a hair.
“Formula 1 is great—and this is true for all motorsports—when it’s convenient. I don’t get up at 4 in the morning to watch it. If I really want to watch it, I've got a DVR. I don't necessarily seek it out, but if it's convenient I watch and I'm intrigued by it. It's a different form of motorsports that I have great appreciation for, just as I do for dirt tracks to road courses, big ovals to short tracks and asphalt. I’m just a racing fan, but I can’t say I seek it out on TV like I used to.
“I’ve heard that a lot, that they’re going to overtake NASCAR. No they’re not.”
Q) IndyCar won’t be at Texas Motor Speedway in 2024 for the first time since 1997. While rumor has it the series will be back at TMS in 2025, there’s a possibility it may not return for a while, if ever at all. Where is IndyCar right now in terms of its success, growth, etc.?
Gossage: “I can’t speak to the Texas thing because I don’t know anything other than from what I’ve read, so I don’t know the insight on Texas. But I think IndyCar is growing, on the upswing absolutely. It’s an amazing formula of racing. It’s probably my favorite, to be honest with you. I really think they’re doing so many things right that you can’t blame them if there's some schedule issue conflict or whatever with a racetrack or two or whatever the story may be there. I don't think that has anything to do with.
“A lot of people don’t understand the business side of it. IndyCar is not Cup, in part because Cup comes with massive TV contract for the promoter. And the business deal in IndyCar is there's no TV money for the promoter. So what is the biggest revenue stream for one series isn't a revenue stream of even (part of) the value and that's an issue, something that IndyCar has to consider in the long run.
“Why would a promoter take on the risk and put on an IndyCar race, when the biggest stream of revenue you get from another series (like NASCAR, you don’t get from IndyCar)? I’ve always said that arguably there's two top forms of racing in America—Cup and IndyCar. At least I've always viewed it that way whether that's true or not.
“That was always my view as those were No. 1 and No. 2, even though Xfinity maybe gets better TV ratings than IndyCar. You're always going to be second to Cup in terms of events. I love watching IndyCar, but right now the issue for them is with their TV contract, there isn’t enough to go around. Teams certainly need some (money from a TV deal), the sanctioning body needs some and the promoters does too.
“They may want something comparable to Cup, but it’s always going to be at the whims and mercies of the Cup schedule. People don’t understand that because they don’t know the back side of it. That’s just a fact that IndyCar cannot compete financially (with Cup), so they’re forever going to have to counter (their) schedule to NASCAR’s schedule.”
Q) IndyCar is often criticized for racing for six months, from March to September, and then it essentially disappears for the next six months. Is there anything IndyCar can do to have a better reach and be more recognizable?
Gossage: “I think most series do that except for Cup and golf. The NFL is the 800-pound gorilla and they figured out if we’re not in-season, what can we do out of season? They have OTA’s (organized team activities/workouts), the draft, and have a 365-day year-round schedule even though their schedule runs from September to the first part of February. The NBA and Major League Baseball have longer than six-month seasons, but you know, it's in theory half a year, so to speak.
“If I was IndyCar, first of all, I think they’re very smart not to compete with the NFL. They’re not going to win that battle, so don't carry a knife to a gun fight. So what can they do during that offseason to stay visible? They try things. Spring training was a concept and those kinds of things. The series doesn’t have that profile that the NFL days where it’s 365-day programming or has the visibility that the NFL does. But they need to try all kinds of things, including off-season TV shows.”
Q) Since the unification of the Indy Racing League and Champ Car World Series into IndyCar in 2008, there have been more than 20 tracks that have come and gone, some holding just one race or two, others holding several before they fell off the schedule. How would you get some of those tracks, particularly ovals like Phoenix and Chicago, back?
Gossage: “They didn’t leave those tracks as much as those tracks left them. Those tracks didn’t renew with IndyCar for a variety of reasons, almost always because of financial: all are related to the gate or sponsorship. They delivered so well at Iowa, I don’t know that you needed a gate because you had such great sponsorship. But what they did with sponsorship insured they had an excellent gate.
“I don’t have the answer. To me, I know when I was running Texas, the answer to me was to treat them equally to NASCAR. I had a saying at Texas that if you don’t make a big deal out of it, nobody else will. So, we treated IndyCar as an equal to NASCAR, we made it a big deal. And then other tracks made it a big deal, but I’m not sure everybody treats it as a big deal as they should. It wasn’t so much that I was trying to be good to IndyCar, it was because I was trying to be good to us. I was trying to sustain.”
Q) What are your thoughts on IndyCar’s two current leaders, Mark Miles and Jay Frye?
Gossage: “I think Mark and Jay are just doing a tremendous job, great leadership. It seems like they make all the right moves. Give them tons of credit. But it’s simple to me when I look at it: if fans aren’t buying tickets to oval track events, then don’t complain that there (are fewer oval track events than in years past). Give fans what they want.
“I would also say that IndyCar—and it has long been its basic fundamental original sin—is it doesn't know what it is. Because you go from its biggest event, the Indy 500, on an oval, it draws the biggest crowd and people go, ‘Man, I think I like that, I want to see more of that.’
“Then a week later, they go to Detroit, running through the downtown streets. I tune in and I say, ‘Wait, this isn’t what I saw last week.’ Tony (George) tried an all-oval series (the Indy Racing League). That didn’t work. You need road course races.
“I’m talking about the casual fan. If you tune into Indy and you loved it and you tuned in the next week, it’s the same cars and drivers, but this is not at all what I saw and liked last week. If you ask them, the drivers and teams and whatnot, they’re the Indy 500 and a bunch of road courses. That’s a problem.“So what is IndyCar? I don’t have the answer, but if they’re an American series, then in that case you have to figure out somehow to make it work on ovals. Or is it (trying to be) European formula racing that also runs the Indy 500.”
Q) Where is NASCAR now? Obviously, they’re not where they were 10-15 years ago.
Gossage: “Obviously, they’re the leader and they’re growing. They’re making a lot of right decisions and calls. I see an obvious change in leadership and Ben (Kennedy, grandson of Bill France Jr.), clearly he’s the future. But I see them doing so many things really right. They need to get this car to work exceptionally well on all tracks, not just certain tracks.
“But I think they have too many road course events. I’m not sure if the street event (in Chicago) works at all. I think they may have a little overreacted in that people were enjoying the road course races like at Watkins Glen and Sonoma, permanent road courses, a proper road course. I think they may have too much of those and that’s not what we as Americans typically think of.
“And there’s all these young folks who say, ‘Listen to that old man talk.’ But I do think they need to have more than just the two at Watkins Glen and Sonoma. Obviously, that’s a good thing, I think the schedule kind of just shows you that NASCAR in the light they’re in today, they’re willing to do new things or things you wouldn’t have expected them to do. They may be overdoing it just a hair, but those are good things. I think they’re strong and getting stronger. They’re No. 1 with a bullet.”