Race Weekend Central

Dropping the Hammer: Put Texas Motor Speedway Out of Its Misery

“That belongs in a museum!” – Henry Jones Jr., “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”

Amid all of the NASCAR memorabilia I own, I have a specific collection.

It’s made up of three diecasts, a hat, a program, a license plate, a collectable pin, a special issue of the Denton Record-Chronicle and a large poster that hangs on my bedroom wall.

The poster is simple. Topped by the title “Inaugural Season of Speed,” it shows a wide shot of Dale Jarrett leading the field across the start-finish line to begin lap 1 in the first NASCAR Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway, held on April 6, 1997, under blue skies and in front of a jam-packed crowd.

The crowd is significant. The picture doesn’t show the fans in the backstretch grandstands.

Roughly 150,000 seats, not counting suites and the infield, were sold for the race.

Within a few years, additional grandstands — now gone — were built in the turns on both ends of the track. They would be filled too.

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For a brief period, the only racetrack in the country that had more seats than Bruton Smith’s track in North Texas was Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The 1.5-mile track was a jewel. It was a destination. Aside from the catastrophic first-lap crash in 1997, it put on good racing.

On that April day 25 years ago, I was among the roughly 150,000 in attendance, my six-year-old self sitting with my dad in the metal bleachers just above the exit to turn 4.

For both of us, it was our first NASCAR race ever.

In my quarter-century of following and covering motorsports, outside of Charlotte Motor Speedway, Texas is the track I’ve attended the most races at, both NASCAR and IndyCar. My dad and I went to two of Texas’ first three Cup races. We even attended a cancelled CART race.

As a native Texan who got his first taste of racing there and has a mini-shrine to the 1997 Interstate Batteries 500 in a cabinet, I have an unquestioned soft spot for Texas Motor Speedway.

But I have no hesitation when I say: burn it to the ground.

Or, as defending NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Larson said last Saturday (Sept. 24) when asked what should be done with the track: “I would like them to demolish this place first and start over from scratch. […] I’m not sure what they have in mind, but anything would be better than what they did.”

Or as Kyle Busch put it on Sunday after suffering his first career Texas DNF: “I think Kyle Larson said it, I’ll let him do the talking.”

Alex Bowman: “The racetrack that we have now has not produced what we want. So there are a lot of smart people working on it and thinking about how to make it better. Got to do something.”

Scott Miller, NASCAR’s SVP of Competition, even gave a passive-aggressive assessment of Speedway Motorsports’ sad state of a track after Sunday’s embarrassment of a race.

“Well, I think the general consensus, this is just is my opinion, this has been a difficult track to race on for a while now,” Miller told media members at the NASCAR hauler who were pressing him about Sunday’s constant tire failures and the Denny HamlinWilliam Byron incident.

“What the plans are for it, anything like that, I don’t have any details on any of that,” Miller added. “But if you ask the drivers, if you ask the crew chiefs, it’s been a difficult place over the years, for sure.”

But probably the best summation of how Texas Motor Speedway is viewed by the broader NASCAR community 25 years after it opened was made by Ryan Blaney.

“You ask anyone in the garage and they’re going to tell you the exact same thing,” the Team Penske driver said according to The Athletic. “This place used to be amazing — just like Atlanta. And now we’ve lost both of them.”

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Richmond Raceway and how the short track is arguably one of the best representations of NASCAR’s decline since 2008.

If Richmond is the leader among tracks owned by NASCAR (the argument could also be made for Michigan International Speedway), then Texas is likely Speedway Motorsports’ representative.

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The history of “No Limits, Texas,” the track built by Eddie Gossage, seems cursed in hindsight, right from the 13-car crash on lap 1 in 1997.

Outside Charlotte Motor Speedway, Texas is the only other track SMI owns that it built itself. It’s also the track that’s needed to be “fixed” the most. Within a year-and-a-half of opening, the track received a reconfiguration.

The track was repaved in 2001, just four years after it opened. It took 16 years for the next repave. That project included a reconfiguration of turns 1 and 2 from 24 degrees to 20 degrees, with the width of the turns expanded from 60 to 80 feet.

After that reconfiguration failed to produced a compelling race product, SMI threw its favorite track-solving solution, PJ1, at the problem. In the process, it helped further ruin not just NASCAR racing there, but also the once-thrilling IndyCar product.

Texas Motor Speedway was nip-and-tucked to death.

Texas’ decline has been so drastic that earlier this month it was deemed a better idea to hold NASCAR’s All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro Speedway. Just as a reminder, Texas Motor Speedway was made possible because Bruton Smith and Bob Bahre each bought North Wilkesboro with the sole intent of splitting its two race dates between Texas and New Hampshire Motor Speedway and leaving North Wilkesboro to rot.

Twenty-five years later, a rotting track is a better racing facility than Texas, which is a relic in its own right.

Texas is among the last remaining idols from a time when you could build a racetrack anywhere with the bare minimum amenities and fans would swarm the place without blinking.

What’s left?

Las Vegas (SMI-built and -owned): Puts on good racing in a marquee market and fans show up for both race dates.

Homestead-Miami Speedway (NASCAR-owned): Originally opened as a clone of IMS, put on forgetful races and was remade into what’s considered the cream of the crop of intermediate tracks. It has one race date.

Kansas Speedway (NASCAR-owned): Put on two of its best Cup races in its entire existence this year. But fans aren’t showing up. Its facilities are stuck in 2001. It’s the track NASCAR forgot, and it doesn’t deserve its two race dates.

Auto Club Speedway (Roger Penske-built, NASCAR-owned): Put on its best Cup race in recent memory this year thanks to the Next Gen car. But to avoid the headache of a repave, NASCAR will wisely convert it to a short track after the 2023 race.

Texas Motor Speedway: The worst track on the NASCAR schedule. Both ends of the frontstretch grandstands, including where I sat in 1997, have been empty for years.

In a time where it’s hard to establish a consensus, no one likes it.

A NASCAR team executive told me last month it’s the hardest track to get sponsor representatives to attend.

Texas. The track located in the fourth-largest metropolitan area in the country.

So what’s the solution?

There’s been rumblings that Texas could follow its sister track of Atlanta and be converted into a 1.5-mile superspeedway.

For all that is good, don’t even think about it.

It’s lazy, uncreative and reeks of desperation. Did I mention lazy?

Kyle Larson, what say you?

“I would like to see them change it from a 1.5-mile track to something shorter,” Larson said. “I don’t know if that means bringing the backstretch in or whatever. If I could build a track, it would probably be a three-quarter mile Bristol, basically; pavement, progressive banking, all of that. But I don’t know if that’s even possible here.”

If NASCAR can take a 2-mile Auto Club Speedway and turn it into a short track, Marcus Smith can find a way to do it in North Texas.

This idea seems relatively realistic.

Does NASCAR need a “Bristol clone”?

No.

But it definitely doesn’t need a fourth superspeedway track that serves as a financial black hole for teams and a potential hazard for cars flying into the catchfence and grandstands, all for the sake of the “exciting” pack racing.

Just because Atlanta got a boost this year doesn’t mean it should be applied to all of your dying tracks.

In the meantime, we have the Texas Motor Speedway that we have. Both IndyCar and NASCAR are scheduled to return there in 2023.

Texas’ playoff weekend came and went without any tangible signs things were going to change for the better.

Unfortunately, in “No Limits, Texas,” it’s still 1997.

2022 is Daniel McFadin’s ninth year covering NASCAR, with six years spent at NBC Sports. This is his second year writing columns for Frontstretch. His columns won third place in the National Motorsports Press Association awards for 2021. His work can also be found at SpeedSport.com. You can hear more from him on his podcast, Dropping the Hammer.

About the author

Daniel McFadin is a 7-year veteran of the NASCAR media corp. He wrote for NBC Sports from 2015 to October 2020. He's currently a freelancer and lead reporter and editor for Frontstretch. He is also host of the NASCAR show "Dropping the Hammer with Daniel McFadin" on YouTube and in podcast form.

You can email him at danielmcfadin@gmail.com.

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Kurt Smith

Well said, Daniel, although I would hardly blame the speedway alone for the decline in attendance. There are as you surely know a LOT of contributing factors to that, and these days, NASCAR doesn’t seem to give a damn if ANYONE actually goes to the event.

Bill B

That’s because it’s pretty much TV money that’s paying the bills.

Kurt Smith

Well, it’s obvious where NASCAR is bowing to these days.

Bill B

I thing you wrote “where” when you meant”who”, and you left the “L” out of “bowing”.

Last edited 2 months ago by Bill B
G Light

Been to a Cup race a few years back at TMS. Enjoyable with a lot of anmenities.

Darrell Richardson

I’ve attended just about every race from every series since 1999. Missed the 1st 2 seasons. I agree that the racing is pathetic at TMS. It’s a conveyor belt. But converting it to a short track is a ludicrous idea. This is TX. Short track Saturday night racing is fine for small states like the Carolinas. We do things bigger in TX. Atlanta got it right. We’ve paid our dues. It’s time to bring big fast side by side pack racing to TX. And definitely NOT another road course.

Dav_Daddy

My first choice would be to flatten it out some and make a clone of what Vegas was before they reconfigured it. I bet the new cars would put on a heck of a show at a 1.5mi New Hampshire plus they’d keep their Indy Car race.

They could also try going symmetrical like Atlanta was in the 90″s. Not sure about keeping Indy in that case though?

Is there even a road configuration for Texas? Maybe bring back the Brickyard 400 and move the road race TX? Though that may be too similar to COTA right down the road. Plus I’d really rather have Road America back if given a choice.

Tony

Short of say, the Indy oval, I can’t think of a track that has been hyped more and delivered less than Texas.

Todd Averitt

Less time full throttle would make the racing better. Give them full horsepower and less downforce. If the track is to difficult for a driver maybe they aren’t a skilled enough driver and should try a different profession. NASCAR should stick to promoting races and let people who know how to build race cars build the cars.

Jeremy

“You ask anyone in the garage and they’re going to tell you the exact same thing,” the Team Penske driver said according to The Athletic. “This place used to be amazing — just like Atlanta. And now we’ve lost both of them.”

Great observation by Blaney. NASCAR is at risk of losing more great tracks. I’m surprised he didn’t include Bristol in that statement. They used to have a years long wait list for 160,000 seats with some fans, according to legend, even including their season passes in estate planning to pass along to family.

“Texas is among the last remaining idols from a time when you could build a racetrack anywhere with the bare minimum amenities and fans would swarm the place without blinking.”

They could build tracks in the 90’s with bare minimum amenities because the racing was good enough to draw fans on its own – gimmicks and sideshows were not needed to enhance the entertainment value of the ticket. There are two pieces to this problem for Texas, Atlanta, and Bristol (perhaps others too); The tracks were changed during repaves, AND the cars were changed. Both supposedly to make the racing better, but as we’ve seen these actions appear to have had quite the opposite effect.

wildcats2016

Well said, Jeremy!

Kurt Smith

Given what drivers are saying in front of cameras, I’d be very interested to hear what they’re saying in the garage.

Gary Brooks

Simple….make the Texas race the roval. Give Charlotte back the oval… problem solved

Brad Lower

My vote is to get rid of Texas and Kansas replace them with north wilkesboro and rockingham. NASCAR decline is because it got away from its roots. NASCAR built several cookie cutter tracks were it had no business even racing to begin with. Go back to your roots and fan base quit going to places were once the novelty wears off interest drops off. LA coliseum is the latest to follow this bad trend. NASCAR has no business in los angles.

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