- Terry Blount, ESPN Staff Writer
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Is hockey on the horizon for Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage?
Gossage says no. But the man generally regarded as one of the top promoters in racing has been approached by people involved with the NHL about joining the league and eventually replacing commissioner Gary Bettman, sources confirmed Wednesday. Bettman's contract expires after the 2007-08 season.
Gossage attended the NHL All-Star Game in Dallas last week, but insists the subject wasn't addressed.
"I haven't spoken to any NHL official about this," Gossage said Wednesday. "It's all very flattering, but I'm very happy where I am and enjoy what I do."
Frank Brown, media relations director for the NHL, denied the league is involved in any way. "The NHL has not hired a headhunter to contact anyone," Brown said in an e-mail Wednesday. "Any reports stating otherwise are fictitious."
But sources said a group with NHL ties has met with Gossage to discuss his availibility. The NHL is looking to find a marketing guru and a high-profile individual who can bring more attention to a league that is struggling. It's unlikely Gossage would consider any position other than commissioner.
Knowing the rumors would become public soon, Gossage met with his TMS staff on Tuesday to reassure them he wasn't going anywhere.
"I told them I wasn't going to pull a Nick Saban," Gossage said. "I knew they would hear about this and I didn't want anyone to get distracted and think things were in limbo here."
Gossage has been portrayed at times as a Ringling Brothers-type showman, an over-the-top promoter willing to do whatever it takes to bring attention to TMS.
His promotions over the years have included a Robbie Knievel motorcycle jump over the starting grid of an IndyCar Series race; a car-eating, fire-breathing 50-foot robot dinosaur called Robosaurus; and a glamorous all-female pit crew for a truck race.
His efforts have helped make the 157,000-seat TMS facility, which opened in 1997, one of the top speedways in motor sports.
Gossage has been in demand from other sports organizations in the past.
Middle Tennessee State, his alma mater, wanted him to return as athletic director three years ago. Back when it was still known at CART, Champ Car officials approached Gossage about heading the league. And the NFL contacted Gossage two years ago about an executive position in marketing.
"I think it says a lot about our sport and its growth that other groups are interested in executives involved in racing," Gossage said. "In our case, it says a lot about Texas Motor Speedway and Speedway Motorsports Inc."
Gossage said he was disappointed the NHL talk got out before he was able to speak to SMI chairman Bruton Smith. Gossage said he has "a lifetime agreement" with Smith to run TMS.
"As everyone knows, I'm extremely loyal to Bruton," Gossage said. "He has given me complete autonomy here to run TMS the way I see fit. I really have a dream job here."
It might surprise people to learn that Gossage is a serious hockey fan. He coached little league hockey on and off for 12 years while his son, Dustin, was playing the game.
"That means nothing," Gossage said. "That's like telling Joe Montana you know football because you coached peewee league. Dustin got a laugh out of the NHL talk. He told me, 'They can't want you, Dad. I've seen you skate.'
"I loved the NHL for many years, but they have some problems. Their TV contact is a major issue. They probably have too many teams and their feeder system needs fixing. They have many challenges that need to be addressed."
And Gossage loves a challenge. Some might say the challenges at TMS are behind him.
"No way," he said. "Trust me, I still have daily challenges here. We aren't anywhere close to where I want us to be."
Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.