SBJ/September 14 - 20, 1998/No Topic Name

Texas misses second Winston Cup date when NASCAR chooses new market

Good news for Homestead played as bad news in Fort Worth.

When the Miami-Dade Homestead Motorsports Complex was awarded a 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup date, as was expected, earlier this month, it marked the third year in a row that Speedway Motorsports Inc.'s Texas Motor Speedway was passed over for the second date it craves.

NASCAR said it chose Homestead as the site of next season's 34th points-paying race because it wanted to expand into a new market, rather than revisit an existing one, particularly when that new market is a premium TV market, as is South Florida.

Further, NASCAR's vice president of competition, Mike Helton, said NASCAR's philosophy on expansion likely will stand through 2000, leaving no indication that Texas or any other newer track will get a second date in the near future.

That leaves Texas profitable — but not as profitable as it would like to be.

"I've been told by [NASCAR marketing director Brian France] that we'll get a second date, and I believe him," said Eddie Gossage, executive vice president and general manager of Texas Motor Speedway. "It will happen. What I'm saying is, we'd like to see it happen soon."

Timing has worked both for and against Texas. The track opened three years ago, as NASCAR was beginning to boom. That's been good for Texas, which seats 150,000 and has sold out each of its first two Winston Cup events. But the boom also has increased the competition for dates, as facilities have sprung up in other markets that NASCAR hasn't tapped.

Any further expansion likely will be to tap those markets — with Kansas City, Chicago and possibly Cincinnati as the projected front-runners.

"If we stretch the season further, there has to be value in doing that," Helton said. "Right now that motivation is focused on NASCAR fans getting to see an event live and for the car owners and sponsors to get more value out of their relationship. Those elements are coming from new market areas."

New markets are attractive to sponsors because they offer expanded exposure and increased hospitality opportunities. A sponsor can entertain a client in Dallas one weekend and Miami another, rather than trying to use Dallas twice.

"It always helps sell new sponsorships when you add someplace like Miami," said Stephanie Smith-Marquez, who directs sponsorship relations for Roush Racing. "We've been in Texas. We've done great in Texas. But Miami is a slightly different market with a very different feel."

Texas management argues two points: that it was promised a Winston Cup date that it hasn't received and that it needs the second date to expand the facility.

The first point is mainly semantic. Speedway Motorsports created a date for Texas by buying half of the small North Wilkesboro, N.C., circuit and moving one of the antiquated track's dates to Texas. Thus, there was no need for NASCAR to award a date to Texas. The second point, though, gets to the sport's fiscal outlook. Speedway Motorsports spent $250 million — the largest outlay ever in motorsports — to build the facility.

"The question is whether tracks can remain financially viable without a Winston Cup date or, in some cases, a second one," said Tim Frost, a senior associate with BDO Seldman, a Chicago firm that does accounting and consulting. "Can you service the debt on a new track with a mid-series race [such as a NASCAR Busch Grand National or Craftsman Truck Series race]? Midsized tracks have done OK that way. It remains to be seen what happens with the larger, more expensive ones."

Managers at both speedways say they can keep their facilities afloat with one Winston Cup date, so long as they are buoyed by the hope that a second one will come eventually. Thirteen tracks have two Winston Cup dates this season. Ten of them lie south of the Mason-Dixon line and east of the Mississippi River.

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