The tension surrounding Texas Motor Speedway began in the off-season, when drivers still reeling from the death of Dan Wheldon questioned the compatibility of IndyCar and high-banked ovals.
It’s led to a conflict between a track promoter who champions himself a longtime IndyCar supporter and the stars of the series who want to ensure they will be safe Saturday night when racing returns to Texas for a 16th consecutive year.
When the checkered flag falls Saturday night, the 24th running at Texas could very well be the final race around the 1.5-mile oval for IndyCar.
“We’ve had no discussion about anything, and as far as I’m concerned, we’re running the race and we’ll address 2013 when the race is over,” TMS President Eddie Gossage said Friday. “I run a race track. I want to run races, and we’ve had spectacular races over the years. But at the same time there it has grown increasingly difficult in dealing with these folks. And, at some point, you have to decide if the pain is worth the trouble.
“What has happened of late really just sucks the passion out of you, and it’s really hard to be passionate when you have been there and supported — some may even say saved IndyCar racing — and you feel like you are due a little respect and loyalty and courtesy. I don’t think we are alone in this category of feeling this way, and it’s absolutely puzzling.”
TMS and IndyCar are dealing with several issues. Among them is the high sanctioning fee the series charges the track, and a date shift this year that gave Belle Isle the slot after the Indianapolis 500 that Texas usually held. Gossage did not think a different race date warranted the same fee from IndyCar.
But the greatest concern is safety, stemming from Wheldon’s fatal October accident at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The two-time Indianapolis 500 winner died when his head hit a fence post, but there were several mitigating factors that the accident report cited as contributing to the 15-car accident.