Zach Bell - What does adding COTA mean for NASCAR in Texas?

  


    The Athletic's Jordan Bianchi, and Jeff Gluck released a breaking news story that NASCAR has another rumored 2021 schedule change. The schedule change is a wild one where Texas Motor Speedway loses one of its points paying races in favor of Circuit Of The Americas in Austin, Texas. That's not all though, Texas Motor Speedway will get the All Star race to replace the points paying date, but keeping two race dates. As a NASCAR fan in Texas, who lives roughly 45 minutes from Texas Motor Speedway, it is incredibly exciting news overall. 

    Let's begin with what this means for Texas Motor Speedway (TMS). Located in the northern part of Fort Worth, Texas is TMS. It is rather far from race fans in the three of the most populated cities in the state. Austin is roughly 210 miles from the track, San Antonio is roughly 285 miles away, and Houston is approximately 275 miles away. Race fans in these cities have a lengthy commute, especially for a track with a less than stellar on track product. 

    Hosting its first race in 1997, Texas Motor Speedway had more than a few bad races in its early history. In 1997, and 1998 the track was nearly impossible to race. After a few repaves, and re-configurations TMS eventually hit its sweet spot in the early 2000's and became the fastest 1.5 mile track on the circuit. The prime era of NASCAR and TMS in the mid 2000's saw crowds exceeding the 150,000 thousand mark. 

    Modern day NASCAR and TMS have declined quickly. The re-configuration going into 2017 in my opinion has almost ruined the track. In an attempt to make the track more challenging TMS dropped the banking in turns 1 and 2 by 4 degrees, and made the turn 20 feet wider. Due to a poor racing product they have been dousing the track with the synthetic grip additive called PJ1, but it has had relatively no positive impact on the racing with the amount they apply to the race surface.  Attendance at Texas has declined to the point where the track is lucky to get 50,000 fans, which overall is great for most tracks, but when your capacity exceeds 100,000 it looks terrible. 

    So what does it mean for Texas, a track regarded by many fans as one of the worst tracks on the circuit, so why does Texas get the All Star race? Besides track president Eddie Gossage being a true entertainer, losing a lengthy 500 mile race may help the racing product a bit. The recent tradition of the All Star race has been that of a glorified test session, and Texas being so bad leaves NASCAR plenty of opportunities to try new elements for future cars. I have quite a bit of faith NASCAR will go all out with the gimmicks and try to make the Texas All Star Race a once in a lifetime spectacle. 

    I would expect Texas to keep their playoff race of the two that are currently on the cup schedule, but this move gives me some concern for the future of the track overall. I do not think Texas will be off the schedule entirely but it could easily go down to one race date, and be a shorter race too. Eddie Gossage will fight NASCAR for his track to keep two dates, and the longer races sighting maintaining fans value per ticket. The one redeeming quality Texas has at the moment is the fan experience with Big Hoss TV, and the local attractions across from the track. For the on track product Texas hosts both INDYCAR, and NASCAR races and it has been rumored we could see a double header between the two series. 

    Now what does this mean for Circuit Of The Americas (COTA)? Having NASCAR could be a game changer for the future of the facility. COTA is centrally located within the state of Texas, and much closer to the state's most populous cities. With the track being more accessible to NASCAR fans in Central and South Texas, there is an opportunity for many Texans to attend more events, or even their first NASCAR race. 

    Hosting F1's U.S. Grand Prix since its opening in 2012 COTA is a state of the art facility. It features a 251 ft. observation tower, a plaza with a pool, a concert venue, and a soccer stadium on the property. The course itself is a 20 turn 3.4 mile road course, and features multiple other possible configurations. Known for its drastic elevation changes COTA has proven to be a technically challenging track at times. 

    Since its debut in 2012 fans, and NASCAR alike have been wanting COTA to make an appearance on the schedule. As recently as 2019 NASCAR has tested the road course with Hall Of Famer Tony Stewart who praised the road courses thinking it would be great for NASCAR. Assuming the rumor of the track getting a Cup date it would be the biggest thing to happen in the facility's short history. 

    The future of COTA is a bit unclear with both of its major events the U.S. Grand Prix, and the INDYCAR Classic possibly not returning, they need NASCAR. Even if they retain both F1 and INDYCAR, NASCAR would still be a massive boost, and they'd almost certainly sell out the 120,000 seat facility. 

    Assuming NASCAR replaces the Texas spring race, COTA could balance out the Cup schedule. On the 2020 schedule the first scheduled road course was Sonoma Raceway in mid June, followed by a trip to Watkins Glen in August, and the Charlotte Roval in October. Due to COVID19 the schedule obviously was not run as planned, but even then NASCAR goes roughly four months before their first road course race. Adding COTA early in the schedule would really help to balance the road courses in each part of the schedule. 

    So what should the expectation for COTA be? I believe COTA will be a great show. I think NASCAR has absolutely nothing like it on their schedule, and that alone will make it a unique can't miss event. I think once COTA gets on the schedule it will peacefully coexist with Texas, and both tracks will thrive in the present day and the future.