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Eddie Gossage, the longtime head of Texas Motor Speedway, dies at 65

Eddie Gossage, president and general manager of Texas Motor Speedway, speaks to reporters June 9, 2016, in Dallas. Gossage, an old-school promoter mentored by stock car racing pioneers, has died at the age of 65, Speedway Motorsports announced Thursday night, May 16, 2024. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez, File)

CONCORD, N.C. (AP) — Eddie Gossage, the longtime head of Texas Motor Speedway and an old-school promoter mentored by stock car racing’s pioneers, has died, Speedway Motorsports announced Thursday night. He was 65.

Gossage stepped down three years ago after 25 years as president of the track in Fort Worth, Texas. In all, Gossage spent 32 years working for Speedway Motorsports, learning the art of selling tickets, packing grandstands and turning races into must-see spectacles from company founder Bruton Smith and longtime executive Humpy Wheeler.

“There was nothing too crazy for Eddie,” IndyCar team owner Bobby Rahal said Friday. “There was nothing too extreme for Eddie in terms of promotions at the races. He was a promoter. You don’t see that often anymore. Most people, yeah, they rent the track out and that’s it, and then complain about not enough spectators coming or something. He was a promoter.”

Gossage had worked for Miller Brewing Co. in motorsports management before joining Speedway Motorsports in 1989. He was still a young public relations director three years later when, during a news conference to promote NASCAR’s first nighttime All-Star race — appropriately billed “One Hot Night” — one of his stunts literally set Smith’s hair on fire.

Smith was tasked with throwing a giant light switch rigged by Gossage to highlight the speedway’s new lighting system. But it shorted out and sparks flew, and Gossage once recalled, “I thought I was headed for the unemployment line for sure.”

“But for some reason, Bruton kept me around,” Gossage said several years ago, “and it wasn’t long after that he gave me an opportunity I could have only dreamed of.”

Smith had begun buying land in North Texas, and he sent Gossage from Charlotte to Fort Worth in 1995 to oversee the project as general manager. Texas Motor Speedway opened two years later for its first NASCAR race, and soon it became one of the premier entertainment facilities in the country, along with a centerpiece of the Speedway Motorsports portfolio.

The 1,500-acre complex includes the 1.5-mile superspeedway, 194 luxury suites, 76 condominiums, a nine-story Speedway Club, office space and the 11,000-seat Texas Motor Speedway Dirt Track.

When he announced his retirement in 2021, Gossage said his approach sometimes borrowed from boxing promoters Bob Arum and Don King — and that his ideas were sometimes outrageous. But his intentions were always for the best interest of the fans, the racing and the speedway, and that is why so many remembered him so fondly on Friday.

“Eddie Gossage was a consummate promoter whose outside-the-box ideas helped engage fans across the country,” NASCAR said in a statement Friday. “He was truly passionate about motorsports and always looking for the next great idea to bring new fans to the sport and keep them entertained at the racetrack.”

Gossage also was loyal supporter of IndyCar, which until this season had been on the Texas schedule every year since the track opened in 1997. It hosted the season-opener during the pandemic in 2020 and later a doubleheader as IndyCar struggled to find ovals that would accommodate the high speeds of its cars along with its schedule.

“Eddie Gossage was a giant in the motorsports industry,” IndyCar President Jay Frye said. “His endless creativity, flair and dedication to the fan experience at Texas Motor Speedway raised the bar for race tracks across America.”

Rahal got to know Gossage decades ago, when he was still driving in IndyCar.

“He was out there making things happen,” Rahal said at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where qualifying was scheduled to begin Saturday for the 108th running of the Indy 500. “Of course he had a great mentor with Humpy, but yeah, he was an old friend. But oh, my God, like I said, there was nothing — nothing was out of the question. He’d consider anything, whether it’s the 101st Airborne rappelling down out of helicopters before the race. He did stuff nobody had ever done before.”

Gossage once joked he was “far too young and pretty to retire,” and that he would find something else to do. Smith called him “one of the best promoters ever” and said one of Gossage’s mantras will forever ring true within his company.

“Eddie has always said, ‘If we don’t make a big deal out of it, no one else will, either,’” Smith said. “And he’s right.”

Funeral arrangements were pending. Survivors include Gossage’s wife, Melinda, a daughter, son and three grandchildren.

“Each day I come to work, I see the impact he had throughout our property,” Texas Motor Speedway general manager Mark Faber said. “Eddie laid a foundation for success to build upon for generations to come and made Texas Motor Speedway a showplace of which Texans will always be proud.”