NASCAR Will Eventually Learn The Texas Two Step

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In one of the radio spots used to promote the April Winston Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway, a voice croons, "I've been going around in circles for so long I don't ever think I'm going to catch myself."

The slogan brings to mind the relationship between TMS and NASCAR officials. You'd think they were a bunch of cowboys sitting around the campfire swapping Texas tall tales with no one wanting to be bested by the other. Call it the "Great Date Debate."

Talk aside, odds are great that forces more powerful than any track or sanctioning body will ultimately decide whether TMS gets a second Winston Cup race. NASCAR frequently doesn't make decisions as much as it holds off until the answer is painfully obvious.

Will TMS ever get a second Winston Cup date? Depending on whom you ask, it is either a done deal or has the same chance as a snowball in the Texas heat.

Eddie Gossage, TMS general manager, frequently says something to this affect: "I've been promised dates by NASCAR officials, and they are men of their words so I don't know when it is going to happen, but it will."

Talk to any NASCAR official about a promise to TMS for a second race and you'd think that teenagers had taken over the sanctioning body. They roll their eyes with a pained look, then say "whatever." In case you don't have a hip youngster in your household, that's a code word for "leave me alone because you're bugging me and you obviously don't have a clue."

The reality is that a second Texas date seems remote now that NASCAR has announced Winston Cup races for Kansas and Chicago in 2001.

But reality hasn't stopped the war of words that has waged almost continuously since construction started on TMS five years ago. When the track opened in 1997, TMS got the date that its parent company, Speedway Motorsports, had from owning half of the now-defunct North Wilkesboro Speedway.

Words were exchanged again after the recent announcement, even if they were long distance and via the media. Adding to the debate is the fact that International Speedway Corp., owned by the same group that controls NASCAR, is among the owners of the two new tracks getting races.

Since the beginning of the 1997 season, six new tracks have gotten a Winston Cup race. Two of them -- TMS and Las Vegas Motor Speedway -- are now owned by Speedway Motorsports, the Bruton Smith company that also owns Lowe's Motor Speedway in Charlotte, Atlanta Motor Speedway, Bristol Motor Speedway and Sears Point Raceway. The other four tracks – Chicagoland Speedway, Kansas Speedway, California and Miami-Homestead -- are owned by ISC, which also owns the majority of the other tracks NASCAR visits.

"I've been told repeatedly they could not add new events to the schedule without dropping some, but they found some way for tracks they own to fit in," Gossage says. "Nobody has explained to me yet what has changed."

Mike Helton, NASCAR's vice president and chief operating officer, says that the opportunity to build NASCAR into a truly national sport is why the new tracks have been awarded races.

"We've said all along that our strategy is to capitalize on opportunities in new market areas as they might become available," Helton said at a press conference announcing the new races.

Well, not all along. Capitalize is a good word and more to the point. NASCAR might be accused of a lot of things and praised for just as much, but the sanctioning body never gambles nor does it spend money unnecessarily.

Ten years ago, NASCAR officials constantly said that they wouldn't race at a track that didn't have a successful record. But that's obviously changed. Ten years ago, NASCAR also didn't have the guts to spend money to build tracks and expand into new markets.

Sure, it had occasionally snatched up a troubled track or two at rock-bottom prices, but those were defensive moves. NASCAR would still be clinging to its Southern roots if Smith, New Hampshire's Bahre family and Roger Penske hadn’t spent millions of their own dollars to build tracks in new markets.

NASCAR really hasn't even spent money to promote its own product, but it has worked well with partners such as Winston and Busch to grow stock car racing. Don't underestimate the power of NASCAR’s other sponsors, companies such as McDonald's, Kellogg's, General Motors, Proctor & Gamble, Ford and Kodak. These companies are some of the best marketers around.

As recently as two years ago, NASCAR didn't even negotiate television rights for its product. The tracks had to do all the work, take all the risks.

Madison Avenue marketing, television, businessmen willing to invest millions, public stock offerings all combined to fuel NASCAR's boom. Give NASCAR credit. The sanctioning body helped coordinate some of this synergy. Most important, NASCAR didn't screw things up like the leaders of some other sports.

Eventually, NASCAR will award TMS a second date just because it makes so much sense. This is especially true when the results are compared to other tracks that host Winston Cup races. Oh, NASCAR might not like it, but the pressure from all of its partners will be just too much.

Sponsors love the market. Not only are there plenty of customers in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, but the metropolis is also a national or regional home to many of the big companies backing NASCAR.

Fans love the place. The crowds are great, with the Busch race outdrawing many Winston Cup events. Fans like it even if they can't attend, with the TMS Winston Cup race producing high television ratings. As NASCAR gets into its new, high-dollar television contracts, this will become of great importance.

Everybody involved -- television networks, teams, sponsors, TMS and even NASCAR -- wins with a second TMS date.

No debate about it.

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