News Column

Texas Motor Speedway Unconcerned About Formula One's Return to US

Nov. 5, 2012

Drew Davison, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Forumla One racer. Photo by Morio, Creative Commons. Some rights reserved.
Forumla One racer. Photo by Morio, Creative Commons. Some rights reserved.

Formula One is coming to Austin in two weeks, but Texas Motor Speedway officials shot down the notion that the European-based racing circuit could impact tickets sales this weekend or in the future.

"We've checked, and about 10 people we know are going to it," said Bruton Smith, chairman of Speedway Motorsports Inc., which operates TMS. "We're not really concerned. Formula One has never worked in this country.

"They had a race in this country years ago at Phoenix, and there was an ostrich race that weekend [in 1991] that drew more people."

TMS president Eddie Gossage said that was a strange but "true" fact. Phoenix hosted F1 races from 1989-91, and Indianapolis also had races from 2000-07.

F1 returns to the United States for the first time in five years on Nov. 18 at the new $300 million Circuit of the Americas track in Austin.

Gossage knows the event has drawn significant interest and will be well attended in its inaugural year. However, he cautioned that F1's sustainability in the U.S. has yet to happen.

"They've done very well, and I feel the more racing in the state of Texas, the better," Gossage said. "But we don't have much crossover at all. Bruton is right that [out of] our crowd here this weekend that 10 of them will be in Austin.

"They're going to have a huge crowd, and they're going to do very well. The challenge is going to be maintaining that in Year 2, Year 3. They had great crowds in Indianapolis to start with and just couldn't sustain that. But Austin is going to do great this year."

The F1 race was one of several subjects that Smith touched on during a news conference Saturday afternoon. He had several notable suggestions to improve NASCAR, from encouraging more altercations among drivers to lowering the speeds to adding new twists to truck races.

The 85-year-old Smith said he feels NASCAR drivers have lost their mean streaks, which has taken away from the drama. He would like to see more drivers confront each other on pit road after questionable racing tactics.

"Maybe some driver at the end of the race gets out of the car and hits somebody," Smith said. "We used to have a lot of that. A.J. Foyt, going way back, was probably the start of all that. A.J. used to win the race, and then he'd get in the pit area and whip you again.

"We need some more. I call it drama, but a little fisticuffs or whatever. Let them express themselves."

Smith admitted that drivers may be more reserved about making those kinds of headlines because of potential sponsorship repercussions.

Kyle Busch, for instance, found himself in hot water a year ago with Mars Inc., the parent company of M&M's. Busch intentionally wrecked Ron Hornaday Jr. in the fall truck race at TMS, and Mars released a statement saying Busch's actions did not represent what the company stood for.

Mars furthered its stance by not sponsoring Busch's car the final two races of the 2011 season.

"[Sponsors] help control the drivers when they'd like to do something else because they say, 'Well, I can't because of the sponsor,'" Smith said. "But here again, we need to do more of that. Have a little bit more free-handed stuff that creates a lot of drama.... The helmet throwing. We need more helmet throwing."

Smith said the Cup series also could improve by lowering the cars' speeds. If they were 10 to 15 mph slower, Smith said, there'd be better competition.

Finally, Smith spoke about a need for change in the Camping World Truck Series.

Smith said it's hard to sell truck racing and had a comical -- or absurd -- idea to make it more interesting. Smith said the trucks should have hogs riding in the bed and capped it off by saying there would be a halftime in which drivers would switch hogs.

"When I see a truck, I always think it ought to be hauling something," Smith said. "Maybe we put a 200-pound hog in the back. That would be exciting for fans and crew members. Somebody said something about PETA, and I don't know anything about PETA, but I don't think they've ever seen anything that they like.

"But here again, if we put a hog in that truck, it'd be exciting."

Source: (c)2012 the Fort Worth Star-Telegram Distributed by MCT Information Services