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05/31/2011

Dan Wheldon Indy 500 Winning Story is Great; Does Anyone Care?

PA545296 FORT WORTH - There may not be a better promoter for his sport or his place of business than Eddie Gossage for Texas Motor Speedway. He is auto racing's PT Barnum. 
And what he's trying to do to infuse interest when the Indy cars come to TMS in less than two weeks for the Twin 275s is an original concept: Two races in one night. Slick idea. Always have to like Eddie's willingness to try anything. Don't be surprised if Eddie trains a mule to race a car one day.

"To do slightly shorter races is something we're excited about," said Indy car driver Dan Wheldon, who made an appearance in downtown Fort Worth at Frankie's Sports Bar.
It's a great idea to drum up interest by flying Wheldon down here two days after he won one of the more interesting finishes in Indy 500 history.
"It's very important for the fans to see this and how this (new format) plays out." 

Indeed. 

But everyone at TMS needs to dial back their expectations on this. Waning interest in open wheel racing is not going to be fixed by running a pair of short races a few minutes apart under the lights. It may help, and it should give TMS a hook on the open wheel schedule after Indy, but this isn't a cure all.

What ails open wheel racing is if it's not Indy, not many people care leaving people like Gossage and other track promoters to sell gimmicks not the sport itself.

Drawing 65,000 to 75,000 for a sporting event, even if that means there are still tons of empties, is a big deal. The race at TMS may be the best on the Indy schedule - although it's going to have a hard time trumping this recent Indy 500 - and it's well worth a trip to watch fast, competitive racing.

It pains me to say this as someone who grew up going to the Indianapolis 500 practices, time trials and the race itself - open wheel racing has become merely a niche sport tracked mostly by gear heads. The damage done by former IRL and Indy Motor Speedway president Tony George and the CART fools has forced the circuit to try zany, wacky promotions. The sport isn't enough. 

When a driver on your circuit who has won exactly one race is your sport's biggest name - Danica - it's a problem. I don't know who any of these guys are any more.

The Indy 500 champion doesn't even have a guaranteed ride for this event.

"I won't have to put my fists up with Danica," Wheldon joked today at the event with Gossage. He and Danica had a spat a few years ago.


"You could," Gossage said. "Wouldn't hurt my feelings." 

The bummer is Eddie really isn't kidding.

@MacEngelProf
tengel@star-telegram.com 

Comments

AJ Foyt

Eat rocks sparky.

This year's Indy 500 was A-W-E-S-O-M-E!

This sport is back! POW!

Open wheel racing does have a niche market but you should promote the hell out of it.

The cars, the technology, the story lines are incredible.

Get your head out of your a**.

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