NASCAR, Formula One, Football and Deer Hunting?

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway wasn’t the only major sporting event happening in Texas on November 2. [Matt Sullivan/NASCAR via Getty Images]

Eddie Gossage, the energetic President and General Manager of Texas Motor Speedway, wasn’t a happy race promoter when the November 2 date for the 2014 Formula 1 race at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, TX was announced. There it was, smack dab on the same day as his NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase race at TMS in nearby Ft. Worth.

And one look at the NFL schedule for that same date showed both the Dallas Cowboys and Houston Texans playing at home as well. Couple that with the opening of deer hunting and it began to look like one or both racing events might be in trouble.

Gossage cut his public relations teeth first at tracks in Nashville and Bristol, then as manager of motorsports PR for Miller Brewing in Milwaukee. He got his master’s degree in PR at Charlotte Motor Speedway under the tutelage of iconic promoters Bruton Smith and Humpy Wheeler. It was at Charlotte that he learned how to entertain the crowds with legendary pre-race extravaganzas ranging from battlefield recreations to record-setting school bus jumping. He graduated to his present role at TMS in1996; the year the facility opened.

Ever the promoter, Gossage and his staff in Texas forged ahead with race weekend preparations despite the presumed competition from the various area events.

An exciting Chase race, coupled with the post-race fisticuffs, were the headline grabbers for the AAA Texas 500 and not much was made of the attendance for the race. ESPN cameras, however, seemed to work hard, providing tight shots which kept preying eyes from revealing views of the grandstand seats.

Race day attendance in Austin for the Formula 1 event was announced as 107,000, down from 113,000 last year and 117,000 in 2012.

Both NFL games were virtually sold out, with more than 85,000 in Dallas and a capacity crowd in Houston.

Gossage told the Dallas Morning News that TMS drew 138,000 for the NASCAR race; largest for any of the Chase events so far this season. The same race drew 146,000 in 2012, with figures unavailable for 2013.

There were, however, some empty spots in grandstands at COTA, and perhaps more at TMS. The 1.5 mile oval has the ability to seat more than 190,000 fans, but reportedly reduced its capacity to just over 112,000 grandstand seats, plus infield viewing, when it closed the backstretch seating areas to accommodate the installation of the world’s largest video screen (almost 21,000 sq. ft.); Panasonic’s “Big Hoss”.

And while attendance for both racing events was down slightly, TV ratings for the NASCAR race were up 8% over last year with a 2.8 rating on ESPN. Ratings for the F1 event were also up slightly.

Each event in Texas, and remember there were four on November 2, appeared to be successful. COTA operated under the threat of a race-day boycott by several teams that are struggling financially. The field there was just 18, the smallest in F1 since Monaco in 2005, after Marussia and Caterham withdrew prior to the event, also due to financial problems. Because most spectators purchased tickets in advance, attendance wasn’t impacted this year.

The good news for 2015 is that the two events will be separated by two weeks, with the F1 race in Austin set for October 25 and NASCAR’s Chase race in Ft. Worth scheduled for November 8.

Of concern for the Austin race is the scheduling of the return of the Mexican Grand Prix in Mexico City on November 1, 2015, at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, a track that hasn’t been used for F1 since 1992. With two drivers from Mexico currently competing in F1, thousands of Hispanic fans have made their way to Austin from south of the border for its first three F1events. The question for the race organizers in Austin will be whether those fans will continue to travel to Texas or will they stay home and go to their own event?

Gossage is already selling season tickets for 2015, advertising the package as being “A deal worth fighting for”. AAA Texas has also renewed its event sponsorship through 2017.

COTA is planning more entertainment events during its F1 weekend. There are also plans for a hotel to possibly be built at the track.

All of these races are likely to continue in the near future, but long-term survival, especially for F1 in such a concentrated geographic area, racing just one week apart, is likely to become the big question.

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