Saturday, April 14, 2012

Eddie Gossage Jr. is a world-class showman

Eddie Gossage Jr. in the Samsung Media Center at TMS
Photo by Debbie Ross for Skirts and Scuffs
“We sell tickets in all 50 states and 9 foreign countries, this race Saturday night, it’s truly a global event. This race is broadcast in 170 countries in 16 different languages so it’s an event that brings the spotlight on Texas, on the city of Ft. Worth unlike anything else that the city hosts every year."

Impressive. And yet when Eddie Gossage Jr, sat down to talk with me in the media center at the Great American Speedway, the track whose image he has so carefully crafted, his first words to me were, “We’re Facebook friends, I believe…I remembered the name” I was impressed, but not completely surprised because Gossage has a reputation for paying attention to detail.

The green flag for the Samsung 500 at the Texas Motor Speedway flies in only a few hours and will be, as Gossage said, seen around the world. The race here in November set the standard for showmanship.

I asked Gossage about the fall race and its place in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship.

“You know, that was just an easy one to me because it was clear that it was coming down to Carl and Tony. And so, knowing their personalities, I knew they would just take the ball and run with it. I didn’t call them and say, ‘Here’s what we’re going to do.’"

Gossage said, “I knew they’re both so competitive, and they both have fun personalities so I knew they would just run with it. I like them both, and whoever won I’d have been happy. The way they responded with finishing one-two here, and I think second and third in Phoenix and then one-two again in Homestead, it couldn’t have been more perfect. It was pretty dramatic.

Throughout the day Thursday and Friday, the drivers talked about how much they love coming to Texas, that they enjoy racing on this track and that Eddie Gossage puts on a good show. How does that make him feel?

“Well it’s exceptional,” Gossage said. “The first couple of years we had some issues here, and I don’t think anyone liked anything. That was another lifetime ago. So it’s great that they like coming here and you know, I want them to know that I respect them all, we’re honored to have them here. We’re going to have some fun, occasionally at their expense, but it’s all in fun. Like I said, I know them all, and they know I’m not mean-spirited about the things that we do.”

Gossage is proud of the track and their work. He said, “Our staff is so experienced, so good. I’ve got the best staff in sports. And I don’t do this stuff, they do this stuff. I don’t worry about anything. I used to, but I don’t have to worry about anything, I sleep good at night because I know that there’s enough toilet paper, that we’re not going to have a problem with too few concession stand workers. I know that there’s enough jet fuel ordered in the event that we have bad weather and have to turn the jet dryers on for hours and hours and hours. Because you don’t run down to the corner and get jet fuel. Our people are just so good, I don’t worry about anything.”

Credit: Debbie Ross/Skirts and Scuffs
"Race weekends are the easiest part of the job. I’ve worked at least six days a week, ten hours a day since Christmas.I hear people talk about “What does it take to be successful?” You know…work all the time. Most days are 12-hour days and most weeks are seven-day weeks. That’s about it. But once you get to race weekend, that’s it.”  

What does having NASCAR Sprint Cup racing mean to the local economy? Gossage said, “The City of Ft. Worth and Denton County commissioned a study a few years ago and it’s like hosting two Super Bowls a year, And if you’re a city that’s really good with hosting a Super Bowl, like say New Orleans, you get it about every six or seven years. The great thing about this is you not only get one, you get two every year. “

Gossage said, “I want to say they determined it’s about $120 million dollars per weekend in hotels, motels, restaurants, night club or you forgot your toothbrush and have to go to the store… There isn’t another event that has a press room full like this and the date line on every one of those stories is going to say Ft. Worth, so that’s great.”

I watch both NASCAR and open-wheeled racing. Some of my favorite memories of the track are Sam Hornish Jr. edging out Helio Castroneves in 2002, and Tony Kanaan in 2004. Epic racing, to be sure.

Gossage said, “Traditionally, year after year, it’s the best race of the year. I’ve got Cup drivers that tell me I’ve got that date circled on my calendar. I’ve told people I’m not making any appearances, I’m going to stay home and watch the Texas IndyCar race. ‘ “

He explained that it wasn’t difficult getting IndyCar, which was then the IRL, to race at night. “When the Indy Racing League was forming, I told them I wanted to run nighttime. It’s not the first, I think they ran some at Langhorne in PA in the sixties, it was kind of a departure for them but I just knew it could be special.”

He described the experience, “Our first race, in my mind, Tony Stewart and Buddy Lazier ran lap after lap side-by-side, and you’re not supposed to do, and they did it. Truth is, it was only eight laps side-by-side, but in my mind it was the whole night, that race turned out to be so spectacular we knew we’d made the right decision. IndyCar loved it, because it was something new and different. “

Of course I had to ask Gossage if he ever predicts the race winner. Turns out he does.

“I looked at it all. Who runs well here, recently, who’s got momentum, who’s due, who’s got confidence. I I look and there’s one guy who’s grossly overdue, would have won, should have won two or three races last year, should have won one this year by my account: Dale Jr. “

He quickly said, “I’m careful that I don’t pick him because people go, ‘Ah, you’re just trying to sell tickets.’ But he seems to have gotten the communication down, is running better every week. He’s second in points, so evidently something’s going right. So that’s my choice.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr would certainly be a popular choice, as I previously wrote.

Gossage said, “He won his first Nationwide, won his first Cup, runs really well here, he just needs a little luck. BUT so does Kasey. So does Jeff. Truth is, any one of about 20-25 guys have a legitimate chance to win. “

“But I’ve been right about 80% of the time the last 4 or 5 years. There’s so many guys that have a shot, but that’s just my hunch. My gut. “

Whoever the race winner is, you can be sure that the celebration will truly be Texas-sized.

The Dale Earnhardt Texas flag flying at Texas Motor Speedway.
Credit: Lisa Janine Cloud/Skirts and Scuffs
Note: Skirts and Scuffs Chief 187, Candice Smith, also chatted with Gossage last May. You can read that interview here.


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