By Jerry Jordan, Editor
FORT WORTH – Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages … you have been amazed for the past 25 years at Texas Motor Speedway but it’s time for the curtain to close. Eddie Gossage – the man, the myth, the legend – known as one of the greatest racing promoters in the history of motorsports has decided to turn in his megaphone as the “ringleader” of the Wild Asphalt Circus in No Limits Texas and ride off into the sunset.
As Big Hoss goes dark, the pyro subsides and the lights go out tonight at TMS, Gossage’s run will come to an end. Over the past quarter-century, Gossage has made a name for himself as a sometimes critic of NASCAR, certain media outlets, a former racing series too scared to race on the 1.5-mile oval, PETA, anti-gun activists and especially Jerry Jones’ stadium size. If you want to know how many Dallas Cowboy football stadiums fit inside Texas Motor Speedway, just ask Eddie.
Throughout his career, he has accidentally set his billionaire boss Bruton Smith’s hair on fire, used a monkey to sell souvenir programs, shot a human cannonball over the Xfinity Series garage and probably blown up more pyro than any July 4th celebration in history. Some call him a modern-era P.T. Barnum but that seems somewhat of an insult because P.T. Barnum never converted a bathtub into a racecar or created a recliner that would do 60 mph. When it comes to promotions, Gossage is perhaps, the best.
He gave Jeff Gordon ponies for his children when the legendary driver retired. He presented Tony Stewart with a life-sized bobblehead at his retirement spectacle. And when Dale Earnhardt Jr. hung up his driving gloves, Gossage rode into the media center on a horse to present the sport’s most popular driver with a donation in his name to Victory Therapy Center, a therapeutic horse ranch located in Texas.
“I think Eddie has certainly helped our company but also helped all of NASCAR,” said Marcus Smith, Chief Operating Officer of Speedway Motorsports Inc. “As a promoter, our jobs are not just to host a NASCAR weekend but to also spread the word and tell everybody about it and Eddie takes that title and role of promoter to the next level.”
When Gossage first arrived in Texas, Texas Motor Speedway did not exist. He has been here since before Day 1 and watched an open field transform into concrete pylons, a ring of dirt, thousands of tons of asphalt and concrete, an office complex and condominiums overlooking the track. To be exact, Texas Motor Speedway consists of 1,500 acres with a 1.5-mile superspeedway, 194 suites for sponsors and well-heeled fans, nearly 80 condos, a dirt track and a go-kart track.
“He puts a lot of energy into making all the details for race fans as big and fun and special as they can be,” Smith said. “I’ve learned a lot from Eddie and I think everyone else who has seen him in action has learned expect big and fun and fantastic things from Texas Motor Speedway and specifically Eddie Gossage.
“Oh, he absolutely will be (missed). It’s personal to me because Eddie is like a part of the family. I call it ‘The Speedway Family.’ He has been with our company for more than 30 years and I am excited for him in his next chapter. I know he is not done with the fun and creativity and energy in his life, so it will be neat to see what he does next but I am grateful for the more than three decades that he has given to our company and to the entire sport.”
But there is also a side of him that the general public isn’t as familiar with – a softer side full of caring and compassion for his fellow man and woman. Growing up the son of a father who worked in a meatpacking plant, Gossage came from a middle-class family with a strong work ethic. To hear him tell it, he has worked since he was a kid growing up in Nashville. He regularly attends church and puts more focus on his family than many may realize.
“Part of who he is, it’s a personality, right. And so, who he is out there when he is, kind of, the ringmaster that he does as being the PR and the face of what goes on at this place when he is in his private life with the kids and everything, he is as loving as big a kid because you have to be a kid to do the things that he does,” explained Eddie’s son, Dustin Gossage, on the difference between Eddie the promoter and Eddie the family guy.
For example, Dustin loved hockey when he was growing up but his dad didn’t know much about the sport. So, what did he do?
“Well, he didn’t know how to ice skate. He didn’t know ice hockey, at all,” Dustin Gossage said. “But he took the time to learn and he was my hockey coach. And he coached us and he had a group of kids that he took all over the country and we went to Canada to play. We were actually that good and it was really because he took the time to learn it. He figured out that balance. That is that side of him where he realizes what is going to make people happy and he cares about it because he cares about making people happy. He’s done that for me, he is going to do it for his grandkids and he did for the fans here at the speedway.”
In fact, Dustin explained his dad is on the student pick-up list at his grandkids’ school. So, now he can step in and help whenever he is needed. It’s something Gossage is looking forward to but it is also something he has already been doing. According to Dustin, his dad makes sure each grandkid has equal time.
“We are outnumbered in my house, we have three kids and it is just me and my wife, so it is good to have him on call and he is super-happy to do it,” Dustin Gossage said. “He is at every soccer practice and game, he is at every swim meet that we can make, he is going to pick the kids up and he does it once a week for just about every kid and if he has time he will do it more. And each one of them gets a day with him and he spends all that time with them and they will come home and telling me all kinds of great stories, you know. It is really a good thing to be a grandson of a guy who can get you close to and inside a monster truck if you are really into monster trucks, which my son really is. My son loves SuperCross, so knowing the guy who can get you right there and you can see the dirt bikes and you can get covered in the mud as they take off from the starting gate, he does it. I think those things aren’t going to end and that’s going to be a bonding thing from what he has gathered here and applies it to being a grandpa with the kids.”
If anyone has ever been around Gossage during a race weekend, they have probably seen Gary Temple. He is the guy wearing a pork pie hat and looks like Gossage’s bodyguard. In reality, he is a Nashville attorney and a lifelong friend. His duties at the track are simple – keep Eddie Gossage on schedule.
“We grew up with Eddie, we grew up in Nashville and we’re lifelong friends,” Temple said. “It’s been good. I am down here as his friend. I am not a race fan but I was here all of these years out of our friendship and supporting him. All the guys that you see around him, we are just friends of his. He came from a strong middle-class family. He has a work ethic that is unmatched. His personality that y’all see is not him. The person that he plays at the speedway is not the person that grew up, goes home and plays with his grandkids. They are different people. He gets the promotion aspect of what he does but he also knows who his friends are. We have been his friends for a long time.”
Temple breaks down Gossage better than anyone. For a guy who has rubbed shoulders with governors and future presidents, rock stars and movie legends, he says Gossage is actually a down-to-earth guy. Despite the bravado printed in the media or said about Gossage on television, he just wants to do right by others.
“Nothing impresses him. If you are a good friend to him, that is what impresses him,” Temple said. “If you are a good husband, if you are a good father, that impresses him. He has met a lot of celebrities over the years but he is more impressed with the guys who do it the right way. I know he has that persona and we see those photos up there but these are his grandkids right here. That’s who he is. He is a family man, he’s a husband and he’s a grandfather.
“Eddie is a good guy. He is a solid guy. One thing I have heard even when he was at Miller (Brewing Company), even when he was at Charlotte (Motor Speedway), is that Eddie is one of the ‘good ones.’ I hear that from some of these NASCAR guys.”
It’s true that Gossage has built special relationships with a number of the stars of racing. Whether it’s Johnny Rutherford, Tony Stewart, Kyle Petty or Joey Logano he has built a level of respect that not many others have. He even has the respect of many of the sport’s media members. From reaching out during hurricanes to being there when a veteran reporter was diagnosed with cancer, Gossage is sincere.
“I will share that when I first got diagnosed with cancer, one of the first people to call me was Eddie and he continued to call and check on me every week, every couple of weeks for over a year,” said Holly Cain, a veteran journalist at NASCAR.com and former reporter for the Dallas Morning News. “He even made the point to come down and visit my family during the Daytona Speedweeks, so he has been somebody that has always given me a lot of pep talks, so to speak, and reason to be optimistic and to hold great faith. So, I will never ever forget him doing that for me when I was going through my cancer.
“When I worked out here, it was in the late ’90s when the speedway was just opening up and, you know, there were a lot of challenges in those days. I will never forget his belief in what this place could be and obviously has become. There is nobody who fits in those shoes. They are one-of-a-kind shoes. It doesn’t mean there can’t be great success it just means it is going to be a different success. Certainly, the standard that Eddie set couldn’t be higher with the way he went about it and when he came here and did this, really for the state of Texas and certainly for the Dallas community.”
Despite Gossage openly admitting that he didn’t like surprises and, in fact, didn’t want a going-away party, he got one anyway on Saturday night in the Speedway Club. Much like the crazy stunts he had pulled off to promote Texas Motor Speedway through the years, the party was a success and several hundred of Gossage’s closest friends and family gathered to give him a warm send-off. Perhaps the reason Gossage wasn’t keen on a party was because the reality of leaving the place he built from the ground up would actually set in. It must have, because as he thanked those in attendance and mentioned those most special to him – particularly his wife and family – he began to get choked up. It was an emotional moment but as he looked into the crowd, no doubt he saw his grandkids, and remembered what his next role in life would be.
“I think that any time, you know, this sort of situation and celebration of a career is very significant in anyone’s life,” Smith said. “Everybody has a soft side, no matter how they might seem. Eddie, I think to everybody, is someone who has a lot of passion and does life right. He and his wife, Melinda, are parents and grandparents but this is a special time in their lives where the page turns to a new chapter and it is something that brings out a lot of emotion because you can look back and you can look forward and celebrate all of that with friends and family at the same time.”
So, what does Gossage have planned for Monday after the NASCAR All-Star race? His oldest granddaughter had already put the pieces of the puzzle together for him – and she did it during the celebration of his tenure with SMI.
Gossage said she asked him if he was quitting the speedway and what he would be doing because she had realized with all of the things being said at the party that things were about to be different.
“She asked if I could come to get them and take them swimming at the house,” Gossage said. “Yeah, that’s what I am doing. That’s why I am leaving.”