Commentary

TMS promoter Gossage says IRL should stick to bread-and-butter ovals

Texas Motor Speedway boss Eddie Gossage has one piece of advice for the unified IndyCar Series: Stay away from the road courses -- or pay the price, writes Terry Blount.

Updated: June 6, 2008, 11:01 AM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

Long BeachAP Photo/John RobinsonLong Beach is one of seven road/street races on the 2008 IndyCar Series calendar.

FORT WORTH, Texas -- Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage has a warning for the newly merged IndyCar Series:

Stick to the oval tracks if you want to make the merger work.

"IndyCar officials have to understand that it will take 80 percent ovals to truly succeed," Gossage said. "Otherwise, this is nothing more than a niche sport.

"If they're comfortable with that, fine, but I don't think they are. The Indy 500 and high-speed ovals like TMS are why the IRL won this war."

Gossage is concerned that the IndyCar Series will add too many road and street courses that were part of the Champ Car schedule.

Long Beach, which was run as a separate event this year, will be part of the IndyCar schedule next year. The Edmonton Grand Prix was added to this year's schedule, and the Toronto Grand Prix probably will be part of the 2009 schedule.

All three events are successful street races that were part of the Champ Car schedule.

"Along with all the good this merger brings, the IRL also had to absorb some bad from Champ Car," Gossage said. "They had to take on some baggage with the transition.

Danica Patrick

We can't forget where we came from. The league started as an all-oval series. These cars were built to be on ovals.

-- Danica Patrick

"But the American public has made it very clear they will not accept European-style road racing. It's not even an arguable point. It's a fact. I'm telling you that would be a big mistake."

The Bombardier Learjet 550 on Saturday night (10 p.m., ESPN2) will be the first time back at TMS for some Champ Car competitors since the infamous day in 2001 when the race was canceled two hours before the scheduled start.

The turbo-charged cars were reaching speeds in excess of 236 mph, making it unsafe to stage the event. An angry crowd of more than 60,000 left without seeing a race.

Gossage says it's "water under the bridge" now, but it does bring back bad memories. He knows some Champ Car enthusiasts believe open-wheel cars shouldn't race on high-banked ovals like TMS.

"The truth is it's not for them to decide," Gossage said. "They lost this fight. I hope that's not something the IRL is struggling with, and I don't think they are.

"But they need to look back and see that model [Champ Car] is failed history. There's a littered battlefield left behind them from USAC to CART to Champ Car. You have to learn from that."

Terry Angstadt, president of the IRL's commercial division, is the man in charge of the league's sanctioning agreements and future scheduling decisions. Angstadt said the league has no plans to cut back on its ovals.

"This series is based on the history and heritage of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway," Angstadt said. "That alone speaks volumes of how we feel of oval-track racing. We will continue to have a large percentage of our races on ovals.

"However, I do think as evident by its worldwide popularity, it's good to show a bit of diversity with road and street racing. It's a great test of driver skill. But that's not to say that our ovals are going away."

When asked about Gossage's concerns, Angstadt said: "Eddie is a great promoter, but with all due respect, he doesn't have a say in planning our future."

Neither does Danica Patrick, but she also has a fondness for the high-banked ovals. She earned her first victory in April on the 1.5-mile oval at Motegi, Japan.

"We can't forget where we came from," Patrick said. "The league started as an all-oval series. These cars were built to be on ovals. I know some people say these tracks are dangerous. Yes, they are dangerous, but it's much safer than it used to be. A lot of our fans really enjoy this type of racing, and I do, too.

"The Champ Car guys want the road courses because that's what they did. But they'll get used to the ovals. The key is to have a balance."

The IRL was founded on the idea of preserving American oval-track racing. The league ran all ovals for its first eight seasons before adding three street/road races in 2005 -- St. Petersburg, Sonoma and Watkins Glen.

Ovals that were eliminated from the schedule over the years include Michigan, Charlotte, Atlanta, Las Vegas, Dover, Phoenix, New Hampshire, Disney World, Pikes Peak and Nazareth.

The IndyCar schedule has 11 oval races this season and seven road/street courses, including Long Beach. The street race in Australia, which was part of the Champ Car schedule, will probably run in October as an exhibition race.

Gossage understands that schedules change and the series has evolved, but he feels the IRL is making too many accommodations to Champ Car.

For example, the IndyCar Series has adopted Champ Car's Victory Lane celebration of a podium finish (as is done in Formula One) in which the top three finishers stand on a stage together after the race.

But the TMS event and the Indy 500 are the only races that aren't using the three-man podium. Indy has its tradition of the gulp of milk for the winner. Gossage said TMS has its traditions also, and it doesn't include the top three drivers together.

"In America, the winner goes to Victory Lane," Gossage said on TMS Media Day in February. "Everybody else goes to the garage and should soak their tears in their beer and figure out how to be faster next week."

Gossage is pleased that the long-awaited merger finally happened, but he wants the IRL to stay the course and not become a new version of Champ Car.

"To their credit, everyone in this merger has avoided taking sides," Gossage said. "But the truth is Champ Car lost and they don't get to make the rules."

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter