Wednesday the 25th of February marked the annual Media Day at Texas Motor Speedway, and, as expected, it didn’t disappoint.
Eddie Gossage, President and General Manager of the track and his staff at TMS are top-notch. The media are very well attended to, as Mr. Gossage understands the importance of a good relationship with those who wield the pen or pixel in your favor, or against it.
Needless to say the lunch was fantastic. Levy Restaurants is the caterer for events out at the track, and they always provide a great meal.
The menu included; tomato basil soup and some outstanding meaty chili (I need to get that recipe!); steak, chicken, and portabello sandwiches on ciabatta bread; and a variety of salads. Afterward there was a desert table with cookies and my favorite, chocolate chunk brownies.
Eddie opened the program on time at noon, speaking to the state of the sport. He made the observation that, “Motor racing is energized by chaos.”
He then read from a “Doom and gloom” piece that very much describes today’s economy and effects it is having on auto racing–except it was an article in a 1974 edition of Sports Illustrated.
I think we were told back then about an impending ice age too, weren’t we?
It was also announced that ticket convenience fees for Internet and Ticketmaster transactions were being suspended, in order to offer further incentive to fans and save them money. This is on top of TMS offering its lowest prices ever for Sprint Cup race tickets at $20 for backstretch seats.
The drivers in attendance were local dirt-track racer Troy Taylor, who will be competing in this weekend’s Texas World Dirt Track Championship at TMS. Taylor won the IMCA Lone Star Nationals in the fall of 2007 at the track.
Colin Braun (pronounced “Brown”–it’s a German thing), who is once again racing the full NASCAR Camping World Truck Series schedule for 2009 in the No. 6 Con-Way Freight Ford for Roush-Fenway Racing was present. He is a native of Ovalo, Texas, a small town south of Abilene.
Ryan Newman and Tony Stewart of Stewart-Haas Racing were also on hand, taking part in radio and television interviews with media as well as answering questions from attendees and those posed by visitors to the newly-redesigned TMS website.
Following Mr. Gossage’s statement we were joined via satellite by IndyCar drivers Danica Patrick, Dario Franchitti, and defending champion Scott Dixon. The IndyCar teams are participating in pre-season testing at Homestead Speedway near Miami, Florida.
Danica has been in the news lately–primarily for her second appearance in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. But her name has also come up as a possible driver for the newly-announced U.S. Formula 1 team. She moves to the No. 7 car for Andretti-Green Racing this year, has a new race engineer, and will have team principal Michael Andretti on the pit box calling the race for her.
When asked about making a run at the championship, Patrick responded, “That’s definitely the goal. We all didn’t run up front as much as we wanted to last year. So we’re definitely looking to win more races as a team and for me individually.”
Dario Franchitti returns to IndyCar after a less-than-successful season in NASCAR. Franchitti lost sponsorship for his Sprint Cup ride with Ganassi, and then suffered a broken ankle in a bizarre crash at Talladega in the fall. Now recovered, he has taken over the No. 10 Target car from Dan Wheldon, who has moved over to Panther Racing.
The 2007 series champion talked about 2008, “It was a character-building year, but there were definitely some high points. I was starting to run more competitively. The Sprint Cup was really satisfying to me towards the end unfortunately for a bunch of reasons we didn’t get the results we were probably looking at.”
Needless to say Dario is happy to be back in open-wheels, “I watched the cars going round on the street course in Detroit and at that point I realized that I have been missing driving these things a lot. The chance to get into the Target car in a unified series–all those things stacked up and we did the deal.”
Scott Dixon looks to repeat as champion and spoke of the reception from his countrymen.
“It was lovely, you know, we’ve always had a ton of support from New Zealand but to see like the ‘Lamb for life’, which I think there was a bit of a joke made about that because I thought it was ‘Land for life’ with a ‘D’ which I was pretty proud of that until they told me it was ‘Lamb’.”
“Obviously the Helberg Awards (where Dixon received the New Zealand Sportsman of the Year) was fantastic and then more amazingly was the (postage) stamp.”
Colin Braun addressed the question of his bright future in NASCAR. “It’s a challenge, really, to map out the plan with any amount of certainty. You know it really depends on what happens with sponsors, what happens with NASCAR and the related teams, and what Jack (Roush) decides to do with all his teams he has and all the drivers he has.”
Braun is in the stable of a great owner with time to hone his skills in the Truck and Nationwide Series, but is looking up at a situation where five Cup teams will have to be pared down to four at the end of 2009. Time is on his side, and for now he’s focused on the Camping World Truck Series Championship.
“Rocketman” Ryan Newman took to the stage next and I asked the question about his transition to the new team, with new people, and a new manufacturer.
“The biggest thing, in respect to both the Dodge versus Chevrolet, and the Penske versus Stewart-Haas, is people. And that’s one of the things I talked to Tony (Stewart) about, way before we ever got to the point of signing any kind of paperwork was, ‘Tell me about the people. What’s your plan for the people?’ And then you have to actually follow through with it. And I feel that Tony has done a great job with all the people at Stewart-Haas to get the right people in the right places and the right capacities.”
His owner Tony Stewart, joined Newman and Gossage for the final segment of the group questioning session. Stewart seems more than pleased with the results of the first two races, and finding himself in fourth in the point standings. I asked him if he feels more confident that he’s got the support of Hendrick Motorsports engines and chassis and that’s one less thing he has to worry about.
“It’s not that we expect anything out of the box, it’s not that we expect to do well, but we feel like we have a great opportunity to run well right out of the box and that’s because of exactly what you mentioned. We know that the Hendrick engines are proven, we know the Hendrick chassis are proven–having somebody like Darien Grubb that’s very familiar with their system because he was in the middle of it last year, on our side helps.”
“We feel like that all those pieces are in place. It’s like Ryan mentioned, just getting the right people and getting the right core group of people together was the biggest part of the equation to try to make it all work.”
So Media Day 2009 is done and the countdown clock is running short for the staff at Texas Motor Speedway to prepare for NASCAR weekend in just over a month. They are a hard-working bunch and do an outstanding job of not only taking care of the media, but the competitors and fans as well.
A special thanks to Eddie Gossage for his hospitality, and the media staff of Mike Zizzo, Dawn Gardin, and Louis Mora, plus all the others, who made Media Day a great time, and bring truth to the moniker “The Great American Speedway!"