Gossage, Texas Motor Speedway buck trend of cutting seating capacity

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Even while the recent trend among racetracks is to downsize – oftentimes with a significant reduction in seating capacity – Texas Motor Speedway is holding steady.

After all, it has a state reputation to live up to: everything is bigger and better in Texas (or at least it’s supposed to be).

With Daytona International Speedway in the midst of its Daytona Rising revitalization that will reduce seating capacity from 147,000 to 101,000, TMS is now the third-largest capacity racetrack on the NASCAR circuit with a permanent seating capacity of 128,655 (135,000 when infield tickets are added).

Indianapolis Motor Speedway remains No. 1 at an approximate 250,000 seats, while Bristol Motor Speedway, a Speedway Motorsports Inc. sister track to TMS, is No. 2 (153,000).

What has allowed TMS to move up on the capacity list isn’t hard to understand: numerous other tracks have greatly reduced their seating availability.

Talladega Superspeedway is down from 108,000 to 78,000 since 2012, Michigan International Speedway went from 131,000 to 71,000 since 2007, and Charlotte Motor Speedway has reduced its capacity from 134,000 to 89,000 since last year.

TMS originally had a capacity of 158,000 seats before scaling back to 137,000 after the 2008 season, according to SMI’s 2009 annual report.

That capacity has been further reduced by approximately 9,000 seats on the backstretch. While the seats remain physically, tickets for those seats are not sold to fans because they do not allow viewing of TMS’s signature “Big Hoss” video screen, also on the backstretch.

In an interview with the Dallas Morning News, TMS president Eddie Gossage talked about some of the challenges the track faces in selling out the place, particularly Saturday’s Duck Commander 500.

“When you think about motor sports, you think of Daytona, Charlotte and Indy,” Gossage said. “Well, we’re right there with them. I’m proud of the fact the four biggest [NASCAR] crowds are always us, the Daytona 500, the Brickyard 400 and Charlotte’s Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day weekend.

“In some years we’ve been No. 1. Some years we’ve been No. 4. All I know is, those other three tracks have been around forever. We’re only in our 19th season. That’s a special place to be [in the top four], and we’ve been there for 19 straight years now.”

Gossage, who has seen some race-day crowds at TMS approach 200,000 since it opened in 1997, begrudgingly won’t further reduce its current capacity.

“We’re overbuilt for 2015,” Gossage told DMN columnist Rick Gosselin. “But we weren’t overbuilt for 1997 when we opened. We’ve sold this place out a bunch of times. It would probably be a wise thing for us to reduce the seating. But that’s something I just don’t want to do.”

Gossage added, “Those 135,000 seats are our challenge. There are 6.7 million people in Dallas-Fort Worth, so 135,000 is not a big dent in the population. That’s what I focus on. I’m competitive. I’m not going to give up. The product is too good, and what we do here is too good.

“We may be the anomaly — and we’re going to bust our butts to continue being that anomaly.”

But, Gossage admits he wouldn’t mind if other forces took it upon themselves to take away more seats.

“A nicely placed tornado might be appreciated, though,” he quipped.

While there wasn’t a race going on, of course.

Follow @JerryBonkowski