One year ago at this time, I wrote an editorial called "Unsafe At Any Speed" about the new Texas Motor Speedway. That editorial dealt with the narrow turn four area and the poor transitions from the turns onto the straightaways. Well, one year later, Texas Motor Speedway still has those problems; in addition to others.
After last year's Texas race, track owner Bruton Smith and track general manager Eddie Gossage promised changes for 1998. When the drivers showed up for testing at the track earlier this year, they saw the changes first hand. Bruton added more luxury suites for his Fortune 500 friends, a better parking area for the fans, and had devised a traffic plan designed to expediate exit from the facility. Did the track improve for the drivers? Well, there was a small piece of asphalt on the inside of the exit of turn 4. Are they kidding?
There's no doubt that Texas Motor Speedway is a fans delight. After all, the track was built for the fans; not the drivers. After months of rain in Texas during the winter, the track developed a new problem; water was seeping through the track. 'Gossage Bay' soon flooded the turn one area. Drivers that tested at the track during March complained of water on the track in turn one and also in turn four. Nevertheless, Eddie Gossage said that the Texas race would be held as scheduled. In his words, "There is no water problem." Famous last words no doubt; more like 'true lies.'
At Bristol, driver Kenny Wallace said that Texas had a major water problem and that the race might be postponed. Gossage fired back asking Wallace to apologize for his comments. On April 3rd, the Winston Cup series qualifying began. As the sun went behind the main grandstand, water began seeping through turn one. Derrike Cope and Lake Speed both crashed hard into the turn one wall. The rest of qualifying was cancelled. Eddie Gossage is a good guy; he's done a great job managing the Texas track and has stood behind the track since it began. However, Kenny Wallace doesn't owe him an apology. After all, Kenny's the one who has to drive his race car into turn one at 190 miles per hour and pray that it sticks to the surface.
Gossage has said that they brought in a drainage system to fix the problem of water seepage well before the Winston Cup cars arrived. Apparently, the problem has not been fixed at all. Cope and Speed were not injured in the qualifying wrecks. However, I'm forced to ask the question 'what if they were?' Would Bruton and Eddie feel responsible enough to pay medical bills for the injured drivers? Not likely unless a court of law demanded they do so.
Bruton Smith has asked NASCAR head Bill France for a second race date at the Texas track. France has repeatedly turned him down in favor of races at Las Vegas and California. Bill France is shrewd; he's watched Bruton buying race tracks these last few years. So, he's countered his adversary with a buying spree of his own. With the Homestead track and Gateway in St. Louis looking for a Winston Cup race date, a second race at Texas seems unlikely. At this point, it seems totally absurd to have one race at Texas.
But for the fans, the show must go on. Two hundred thousand spectators can't just be turned away and told, "sorry, no race today." The Dallas-Fort Worth market is one where Winston Cup racing should be. If only the track could be as first-class as the facility that holds it. For Bruton can build as many luxury boxes around TMS as his heart desires. Only problem is that the track will likely remain as it is now; trash. So, in the span of a year, what has improved about TMS? The answer seems to be clear; very little. There's still concern about narrow racing grooves and the added concern of water on the track. The bottom line is that the track remains as it was in 1997; unsafe at any speed.
Copyright ©1998 Jeff Gordon Online.|
All rights reserved.