What’s Eddie got up his sleeve this time?

IndyCar commentary — By on August 12, 2010 10:16 pm

(Originally posted by Paul to Planet-IRL.com.)

As the speculation surrounding the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series schedule continues at full speed, the latest round of rumors to surface comes courtesy of the new best friend of the Series, Speedway Motorsports, Inc. (SMI), and its mega promoter, Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage.

SMI and IndyCar have gotten very cozy over the past couple of years. SMI officials announced earlier this year that the IZOD IndyCar Series would return to New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2011 following a 13-year absence, marking the first time that a track will return to the Series schedule after having been previously removed.  Randy Bernard also continues his quest to have Las Vegas Motor Speedway host the 2011 IICS finale. And among SMI’s currently established tracks on the schedule is Texas Motor Speedway, which has annually drawn the largest IndyCar crowd of the year outside of Indianapolis, causing it to label itself the “Second Home of the Indy Racing League.”

Eddie Gossage is known for marching to the beat of his own drum when it comes to promoting his events.  He operates under the principal of “if you’re going to do it, do it big,” and he does so with flair!  This is the guy that offered $100,000 to a Dallas DJ in exchange for a legal name change to texasmotorspeedway.com.  Sure, it turned out to be an April Fool’s joke — but in Eddie’s mind, nothing is out of bounds.  His next big trick will be to hold a news conference on August 17th to announce some dramatic changes to TMS’s schedule of events for 2011.

This is where things get interesting (and where I begin to do a lot of speculating).

The guest list for the announcement reads as follows:

  • Bruton Smith, CEO of SMI – makes complete sense for him to be there
  • Randy Bernard, CEO of the IICS – makes sense for him to be there, assuming this is a Series-related announcement
  • Helio Castroneves, IndyCar driver – makes sense for him to be there as a former winner at the track
  • Brian France, CEO of NASCAR – makes sense for him to be there, assuming this is a NASCAR-related announcement
  • Tony Stewart, NASCAR driver – makes sense for him to be there as a former winner at the track
  • Goo Goo Dolls – not sure why they are on the list; perhaps just to add hype to the event

On the surface, each of the players has a legitimate reason to be at this press conference — but if you believe it’s as simple as that, you don’t know Eddie Gossage.  In his world, there is no such thing as too much exposure.  In other words, it would be very un-Gossage-like to hold one press conference when you could just as easily hold two and get more exposure for your facility.  Something must be afoot…

SI.com Motorsports writer Brant James reported yesterday via Twitter that Texas Motor Speedway is set to announce that the IICS will run twin sprint races next year at at the 1.5-mile oval north of Fort Worth.  Elsewhere, Jayski.com is reporting that next week’s press conference is to announce that NASCAR will run one of its Texas races under the lights next year.

Which of those announcements would you consider more significant?  Another night race for NASCAR, which would make nearly a dozen such races on their schedule, or the return of a format that hasn’t been seen in major level racing since the early 1980s?

To my mind, the answer is the latter.

Now, flash back a couple of weeks to when Brian France was asked about the potential of working with the IZOD IndyCar Series.  France had less-than-nice things to say about the IICS and hinted that he would not take a back seat.  Comments such as those from France make it difficult to believe that he has any intention of playing second fiddle to Randy Bernard at the press conference next Tuesday.  So, France and Gossage must have something more dramatic in the works than to simply announce a NASCAR night race.

My guess is that this is the long-awaited IICS/NASCAR double-header weekend.

Sure, France said that NASCAR wouldn’t be interested in doing a double-header weekend with the IICS.  But he doesn’t speak for either SMI or Texas Motor Speedway.  Recall that he wasn’t happy about seeing Dario Franchitti run around New Hampshire Motor Speedway, even at 50% throttle (and still substantially faster than the Sprint Cup boys), prior to NASCAR’s event there on June 27th.  But in the end, there was little he could do to stop it.  France might not like the idea of NASCAR sharing the bill at Texas with the IZOD IndyCar Series, but is he really going to tell Texas Motor Speedway — and, by extension, SMI — to go away?  France ultimately knows that his audience is shrinking across the board.  By pairing up with the IICS, there will more butts in the seats at the track and more eyes watching from home, thus increasing the event’s value for its sponsors.

So, why are Texas Motor Speedway and SMI interested in putting on this double-header weekend?  Sure, there is the aforementioned matter of sponsorship ROI.

But think bigger — as in $20 million bigger.

SMI CEO Bruton Smith and Bernard have been cooking up this Memorial Day Bonus idea since the spring:  for any driver that can manage to win both the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 on the same day, a $20 million payday is in the offing.  Thus far, several drivers on both sides of the fence have expressed an interest in giving it a try, but nearly all have said it will be important to get adequate seat time prior to the events for anyone to even have a chance.  Running a double-header weekend at Texas could provide just such an opportunity.  According to an article by Yahoo! Sports writer Jenna Fryer, NASCAR’s spring race at Texas is provisionally slated for April 9, which would give drivers interested in doing the double a chance to work with teams well before the Month of May and provide racing opportunities that no amount of testing in a stock car or an IndyCar can simulate.

One more benefit of running the IICS race at Texas in April:  doing so opens up the weekend immediately following the Indianapolis 500.  If Bernard gets his way, Milwaukee could fit right back into its traditional spot no later than 2012.

(Note that if the pre-Indy 2011 IICS schedule matches with this year — and I don’t necessarily think that it will — this date will conflict with the race at Barber Motorsports Park.  However, bumping Barber and St. Pete forward by a couple weeks might not be a bad thing, particularly in the interest of drawing a bit more of the spring break crowd to St. Pete.)

Could all of this speculation be running off-course like Takuma Sato?  Of course it could — although playing 20 (thousand) questions with a source inside SMI has led me to believe that next Tuesday’s press conference will go down one of these paths.  Whether we see the dual IndyCar sprint races or the IICS/NASCAR double-header, it seems obvious that the 2011 IICS race at the Second Home of the Indy Racing League will not be just another 300-mile Texas shootout.

I would personally love to see the IICS/NASCAR double-header weekend, even if it means IndyCar runs on Friday night or Sunday afternoon.  I admittedly don’t understand the intrigue behind the dual sprint races — just because they did it at Michigan in the 1970s doesn’t mean its a good idea today — but it is difficult to argue that shaking up the standard lather/rinse/repeat oval weekend is a bad thing.

But whatever Eddie Gossage has planned for next week, don’t look for it to go unnoticed.  After all, that’s just not how Eddie does things.

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