NASCAR has expressed interest in having more races that aren’t on oval tracks, meaning road courses.
The change in management of Formula One could open a door to Austin for NASCAR.
While NASCAR kicked of the 2017 season with the Daytona 500, its kickoff and signature event, Circuit of the Americas (COTA) officials are casting their eyes toward the most popular racing series in the United States.
COTA Chairman Bobby Epstein told the American-Statesman recently that he’s interested in pursuing a race for Austin in NASCAR’s top-tier series.
“I’ve had contact with NASCAR officials, and we’ve heard from their fans and drivers,” Epstein said. “Everyone seems to want to be here, so I see no reason why it couldn’t come together.”
The mere thought of Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick negotiating the twists, turns, esses and elevation changes along the 3.4-mile circuit stirs the imagination.
“It’s something fans are asking for in droves,” Epstein said. “We hear it, and I’m assuming (NASCAR) hears it, too. They are continuing to tweak their product, looking for new ideas. This would be something different, a change of pace.
“I’d be pretty optimistic it could happen because NASCAR said they want more road courses, more non-ovals. Now that they’ve said that, this is the best one in the country. So if enough fans want them here, I think they’ll be here one day.”
Epstein did not put a timetable on a possible race at COTA. NASCAR currently has two road-course events — at Sonoma, Calif., and Watkins Glen, N.Y. — jammed into a crowded 36-race schedule that stretches from late February to mid-November.
Steve O’Donnell, a NASCAR executive vice president, acknowledged last year that fans have been asking for different types of races and venues.
Significant obstacles could stand in the way of Austin landing a race. Most of the tracks where NASCAR races are owned by Bruton Smith’s Speedway Motorsports — including Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth — or the France family’s International Speedway Corp. It’s highly unlikely either would give up a race!
Formula One management hasn’t viewed NASCAR favorably in the past, but Epstein said the takeover of F1 by U.S.-based Liberty Media could ease the way to a purpose-built F1 track co-existing with NASCAR.
“I think the objections might be a little lighter than they used to be,” he said. “I don’t think they would fight it strongly. That might be one of the healthy changes that could happen with Liberty’s ownership.”
Some NASCAR drivers and teams have toured COTA in the past, giving it rave reviews.
“The drivers and teams love this track and the city,” said Katja Heim, chief operating officer for Circuit of the Americas. “I think they’d enjoy a race here. We have a lot to offer.”
Four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon, now a Fox analyst, said at November’s U.S. Grand Prix that COTA could be an intriguing site for NASCAR.
Kurt Busch, the 2004 Cup champion who won the 2017 Daytona 500, told the American-Statesman a few years back while testing at COTA: “This could work. With the tight corners, you could just dive-bomb people. It’d be fun and frustrating all at once. It’s an amazing track that brings a lot of worlds to one place.”
Epstein doesn’t know what the odds are, but he’s bullish on the idea.
“NASCAR should be here — I will tell you that,” he said. “I think their fans want them here, and I think it’s good for the sport.”
Having listened the COTA argument the Texas Motor Speedway President, Eddie Gossage, wanted to be as respectful as possible, but couldn’t help but rip the Circuit of the Americas race track in Austin for believing it could land a NASCAR race one day.
“I don’t blame them for wanting NASCAR races, it’s just that they’re 20 years too late,” Gossage said Monday. “I don’t think they know the business, or they wouldn’t be saying such things.”
This subject became a story after Circuit of the Americas chairman Bobby Epstein told the Austin American-Statesman that his track has had contact with “NASCAR officials” and that “everyone seems to want to be here, so I see no reason why it couldn’t come together.”
Gossage chuckled at the idea, although admitted it’s along the lines of something he’d say to generate publicity and interest for his track. But NASCAR hasn’t discussed the idea of adding a road race in Austin with officials from TMS or its parent company, Speedway Motorsports Inc.
“Anyone can talk to a NASCAR official,” Gossage said. “What NASCAR official? What’d they say? That doesn’t mean a thing. We’re all bound by contracts.”
TMS and NASCAR are entering the second year of a five-year deal, and Gossage said that the track is “protected contractually” from NASCAR adding an additional race within the region.
TMS has been a staple on the NASCAR circuit since it opened in 1997, and it has put in resources to stay among the top tracks. In recent years, it has added a giant video screen and will have a repaved track with reconfigured turns this season.
“We have 20 years of history with NASCAR, there’s a long history there and our company is one of the biggest clients in the world for NASCAR,” Gossage said. “This story doesn’t concern us.”
Gossage said he did not think COTA ingratiated itself to NASCAR too well by bringing up this story during the sport’s biggest week, the Daytona 500, when the attention should have been on that event.
“I don’t want to slam them at all. I’m sure they’re great folks,” Gossage said. “When I saw it, I just laughed at it because it’s something I would do. You got all this attention on the Daytona 500, so ‘Hey, we’re trying to bring NASCAR to town.’ Get some publicity on the Daytona 500 coattails.
“But we’re old pros. This is my 38th season in major-league racing. Both TMS and [Speedway Motorsports Inc.] have a tremendous amount of knowledge and talent and ability. They are trying to find their way in a really complicated and nuanced business. It’s all a new challenge for them.”
At the end of the day, though, NASCAR itself is trying to stay relevant. The top racing circuit is exploring new options and changes to attract more fans, and having more road courses isn’t far-fetched.
NASCAR has two road courses on the schedule in Sonoma, Calif., and Watkins Glen, N.Y. Austin would make sense to bring on, to a certain extent, but it’s hard to envision that happening with TMS a few hours away.
“It’s a nice race track, but we’re the place that you’ve got to come to see NASCAR, see IndyCar, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon,” Gossage said.
This all sounds like a battle may be brewing over the next few years between all the stakeholders, NASCAR, ISC, SMI and COTA. It would be nice to add another road course to NASCAR, and COTA is a first rate venue that would add a lot to NASCAR, especially if this was added to the “playoffs” part of the season. However there is a lot of legalities that would have to ironed out in order for all of the stakeholders to feel like they got a fair shake.
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!