Since 1997, Gossage’s brainchildren have made headlines for their wacky nature, but they have put many fans in the stands at Texas too. (Sarah Glenn/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway photo)
FORT WORTH, Texas — In 21 years of existence, Texas Motor Speedway has become well-known for its wild and outlandish promotions. Every event at the facility will have some sort of theme and well-thought-out marketing campaign. Most of them have been the brainchild of track President Eddie Gossage, who has held the position since the facility opened in 1997. In those 20-plus years, Gossage has earned a reputation for being NASCAR’s best track promoter. His ideas have been crazy and pushed the envelope at times, but they have drawn attention from media and race fans across the globe. Today, his work has helped to make Texas one of the best-attended tracks on the NASCAR calendar. In advance of today’s Texas race, the AAA Texas 500 (7 p.m., Premier Sports, PRN), here is a list of some of his finest promotions:
SIX-SHOOTERS IN VICTORY LANE
If ever there were a signature Eddie Gossage promotion at Texas, the track’s Victory Lane celebrations might be it. Winners of races at Texas are given a cowboy hat and a pair of six-shooters to fire off into the sky. Gossage says it is a nod to the Old West and the cowboy culture that helped to develop the state. Combined with the pyrotechnics that greet every Texas winner in Victory Lane, it makes for a memorable experience for drivers and fans alike.
SO EASY A MONKEY COULD DO IT
In the late 2000s, Gossage was in a meeting with his boss, Speedway Motorsports Inc. Chairman Bruton Smith, exploring ways to increase programme sales. Smith told Gossage that “a monkey could sell programs” because it was so easy. Gossage decided to take his boss’ advice literally. For the Fall 2010 race at Texas, Gossage had his team search the Dallas area for two monkeys that could be trained to sell programmes. They found “Miki” and “Rocky”, who held station in Turn 4 as they handed out race programmes to eager fans. The only downside? “Monkeys don’t make change”, said Gossage, “so don’t give them a $20”!
When fellow Speedway Motorsports Inc. track Charlotte Motor Speedway unveiled its 16,000 square-foot video board in Spring of 2011, it changed the fan experience drastically. All of the leaderboards and lap times that race fans watching on television had were now accessible to everyone at the race track too. It negated television’s greatest advantage over the live racing experience, and was an instant success.
Gossage knew that it wouldn’t be long before his track had something similar. But as they saying goes, “everything is bigger in Texas”, so this video board had to go beyond Charlotte’s. After its construction in 2014 and an expansion two years later, “The World’s Largest HDTV” covers over 20,000 square feet. It holds the Guinness World Record for the largest HD LED video board and is almost double the size of the one at the nearby home of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys, AT&T Stadium. Texas’ video board has an appropriate name to boot: “Big Hoss”, which is a common greeting amongst cowboys in the West.
A TITLE FIGHT LIKE NO OTHER
Texas’ Fall race debuted in 2005, and was dropped immediately right into the heart of the NASCAR playoffs as the eighth race of 10. It has stayed in that position since, and likewise has been a critical part of every playoff battle. This was no more evident than in 2011, when Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards went head-to-head for the title. Edwards led Stewart by just eight points going into the Texas race, and the two drivers were the only ones in realistic contention for the title. Gossage seized the opportunity by billing the race as a boxing match: vintage-style posters were created that recalled the heyday of the early 1900s, and a full “Tale of the Tape” was made comparing both drivers’ vitals, using crew members and car statistics to fill out the smaller categories. Stewart went on to win the race, and then won the series title three weeks later. One of the photos he took in Victory Lane was with a custom-made walkout robe; it was excellent PR for Gossage, but also became an iconic shot of one of NASCAR’s most incredible title runs.
A HORSE IS A HORSE, OF COURSE, OF COURSE
Gossage is no stranger to the wild and outlandish, and this was on display in the Texas Media Center on Friday morning. In the Spring, he gave retiring superstar Dale Earnhardt, Jr. the number 8 sign from the old scoring tower that sat in Turn 1. On Friday, he gave Junior his second retirement gift: sponsorship of a therapy horse at a farm near the track. It was a gift that could have been easily announced by press release alone, but Gossage had a better idea: make the news by riding an actual horse into the Media Center! His “horsing around” on Friday immediately became the top NASCAR news story until that night’s Camping World Truck Series event.
CHASE “THE ROCK” JOHNSON… ER, ELLIOTT
The main story coming out of last week’s race in Martinsville was Denny Hamlin wrecking Chase Elliott for the lead with a handful of laps remaining. After the race, Elliott and Hamlin were interviewed on pit road, and the crowd response was immense: boos and jeers throughout the stands for Hamlin, and raucous cheers everywhere for Elliott. With public support overwhelmingly in Elliott’s favour, Gossage has taken a page from WWE champion Dwayne Johnson and plastered Elliott’s face everywhere across the facility, branding him as “the People’s Champion”. Elliott said that it was weird to see himself in advertisements across Texas Motor Speedway, but to NASCAR fans, supporting the Elliott name is nothing new. Chase’s father, Bill, won the NMPA Most Popular Driver award a record 16 times during his career, and the younger Elliott appears to be close to succeeding his father and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. as the next driver to dominate that award for the next two decades.