Eddie Gossage Leaves Texas Motor Speedway with a remarkable legacy

By Holly Cain | Posted 3 years ago

For the better part of the last three decades, race fans and the race curious have seen Eddie Gossage hard at work as the President of Texas Motor Speedway.


Before the 1,500-acre structure – with grandstands seating nearly 100,000 people – arose from the plains located a half-hour drive northwest of Dallas toward the Fort Worth city limits, Gossage was making roots and promoting the region’s grandest sports venue. 


The Dallas Cowboys’ old Texas Stadium could fit inside the grounds four times over. Gossage secured the installation of “Big Hoss” Television – a 218-foot wide by 96.9-foot-tall infield screen showing the live broadcast– and has hosted pre-race ceremonies featuring major entertainers from Peter Frampton and Britney Spears to Ozzy Osbourne and The Doobie Brothers.


The Rolling Stones played at the track when it opened in 1997. Sammy Hagar bookended Gossage’s tenure, playing Sunday night just before the green flag dropped for NASCAR’s All-Star Race.


The modern media center welcomes reporters and photographers with a large photograph of Gossage and track owner Bruton Smith standing on either side of President George W. Bush – who attended a race when he was Texas Governor.


It’s indicative of the top tier Guest List that has enthusiastically accepted invitations to the speedway - a prestigious honor roll of Who’s Who from Olympic gymnast Nadia Comaneci, the NBA’s Shaquille O’Neal and a long list of NFL legends such as Howie Long, Emmitt Smith, Terry Bradshaw and of course, the late Dallas Cowboy coach Tom Landry.


And now after a 25-year Texas tenure starting when Gossage actually broke ground for the track, he concludes his work raising racing’s profile in Texas. The 62-year old oversaw his last race weekend – celebrating in typical Gossage-style with a huge fireworks celebration following Kyle Larson’s victory in the NASCAR All Star Race.


Gossage is a throwback to the stereotypes of “grand promoters.’’ He does outlandish things – getting racing rivals to dress in boxing attire – for pre-race promotion - to unapologetically drawing chalk outlines on the ground – symbolizing the confrontation between racing legend A.J. Foyt and two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Arie Luyendyk in a dispute next to Texas Victory Lane following the track’s first IndyCar race in 1997.


Gossage’s fireworks shine brighter and pop louder. His over-the-top pre-race introductions set the tone for events. Nothing is too big, too grand. Anything “never-been-done” is more challenge than statement - and likely, “about-to-be-done.” 


All that is hardly surprising for a track property identified by large “No Limits Texas” signs erected in 2014 to give the facility its unofficial, yet highly accurate locale.


When Texas Motor Speedway presented retiring drivers such as Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. with gifts – Gossage, of course, went big; a pair of Shetland ponies for Gordon’s two young children. And Gossage rode into the media center – dressed in full cowboy regalia - on a full-size horse for Earnhardt Jr. and his wife when that second-generation favorite retired.


And, there’s “Lil’ Dale,’ a goat whose fur remarkably had the color and outline of the number three – an homage to the late legend Dale Earnhardt who famously drove the No. 3 Chevrolet. The goat has since passed away, but Gossage had a taxidermist preserve her and she remains at the track.


As outspoken and flashy as Gossage’s reputation leading Texas Motor Speedway, he appeared genuinely touched as industry and local leaders came to honor him Saturday night - the eve before his last marquee event. 


Marcus Smith, president of Speedway Motorsports, which owns the track, spoke at a dinner in honor of Gossage.

“If we don’t make a big deal out of it, no one else will,’’ Smith told the room, reminding everyone of one of Gossage’s favorite sayings – comparing the modern day promotional “wonder” with the work of the great P.T. Barnum.


Three-time Indianapolis 500 champion Johnny Rutherford, nicknamed “Lone Star JR” for his longtime Texas residence, is an open-wheel legend and insisted Gossage’s farewell this weekend was something he absolutely wouldn’t miss.


“He is a special individual,’’ Rutherford said. “I’ve known him for a long time. He’s been around in all types of racing and he knows the business. Eddie is in the same league as [former Charlotte Motor Speedway President and showman Humpy Wheeler]. I really feel he is an exceptional guy. He’s cordial to anyone that comes up. He’s just a good guy.


“Eddie might as well be a Texan. He’s been here for 25 years and has done a great job. This was a brand-new facility and it needed someone who had the ideas to make it work. And it did. It’s been amazing this year with all the weather and problems we’ve had to be able to make this thing work. It’s been incredible.


“He’s like a brother. He comes across that way and I feel good about that. I just hope he stays in the area and doesn’t decide to move away.” 


Gossage’s longtime close friend Kyle Petty – a former NASCAR Cup Series race winner and son of the sport’s legendary Richard Petty – told a large audience in the track’s “Speedway Club” ballroom over the weekend that there were simply “so many stories” he could share about their friendship - and the good Petty knows Gossage has done for so long.


“The day I met you and we became friends, it changed life for me,’’ said Petty, who has counted Gossage as a regular on his Kyle Petty Charity Ride for decades. The event raises money for Petty’s Victory Junction Camp for children.


In fact, in honor of Gossage’s 32 years with Speedway Motorsports, Smith, announced that the company has donated $100,000 to Petty’s Victory Junction camp in Gossage’s name. 


Even in a land where news is so dominated by the Dallas Cowboys, Gossage was able to expand the sporting landscape and put a legitimate, larger-than-life stake in the sports scene. His presence made a difference and he leaves a lauded legacy. 


Not just for what he did to increase the racing presence in the area, but for what he did for others. For someone so renowned for his large-scale promotional antics, Gossage was equally as generous with his time and resources in more subtle ways too.


After listening to the tributes from friends and associates - with a video stream of photos of Gossage with celebrities and sports legends playing in the background - the man never at a loss of words was genuinely touched and noticeably moved by the honors and kind words.


“If I had known all this would happen, I’d have done this a long time ago,’’ Gossage joked about stepping down – his voice cracking just a bit.


“The best thing Texas Motor Speedway has given me, is Melinda,’’ Gossage said of his wife who worked at the facility in the 1990s. “So many great things have happened here, but the best of all was meeting my wife.’’


And after decades shoulder to shoulder with big time celebrities promoting the country’s high profile motorsports events, Gossage ‘s face lit up and he broke into a huge grin when asked, “What’s next?”


“My three grandkids are coming over Monday morning,’’ Gossage said. 


And among a professional lifetime filled with legacy and success – this is the version he’s most proud of and ready to embrace.

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