FORT WORTH (AP) – Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage described it as a “punch out of nowhere” when he started seeing reports that IndyCar Series drivers were concerned about how the fence was constructed at the fast oval.
Especially since not a single driver had ever expressed any such concern to Gossage.
“I don’t know why a speedway that had two races last year with one caution between them is suddenly the target,” Gossage said Tuesday. “We’re the only people that have had any engineers look at it, so we don’t understand it. But I think everybody has a better handle on it.”
Gossage’s comments came during his track’s annual media day, which was held a day after several IndyCar drivers dismissed any notion of boycotting their June race at Texas.
IndyCar driver Graham Rahal, who was at the track for the media day, said there were some questions raised among drivers about the fencing, but never any talk of a boycott. Rahal said he feels safe racing at Texas, where the series has had some of its fastest and closest races.
“Everybody will come here, we’re going to put on a great show,” Rahal said. “We’re going to find a way to be here for many years to come.”
Safety has been a dominant topic in IndyCar since two-time Indianapolis 500 champion Dan Wheldon died when his head hit a fence post after his car went airborne during a 15-car crash in the season finale at Las Vegas in October. The high-banked Texas and Las Vegas tracks are owned by Bruton Smith and the fence at both is designed in a similar fashion.
“Whether the fence was in front of the pole or behind the pole, sadly the result probably would have been the same,” Rahal said.
Gossage said he has spoken with IndyCar Series CEO Randy Bernard and consulted with engineers about the fencing at Texas, which has hosted IndyCar in 15 consecutive seasons and is among the biggest events on the schedule.
“Safety is not something to joke about, safety is not something to take lightly. We’re not about to, particularly coming on the heels of a really catastrophic event, and everybody’s ultra-sensitive to it,” said Gossage, who like others gets emotional about Wheldon’s death. “You can have emotional feelings about, but the solution is a fact-based solution.
“When you start talking about now what, that has to be based solely on facts,” he said. “IndyCar has not talked to an engineer about fencing, drivers have not consulted an engineer, but we have. You do what the engineer tells you to do, and that’s what we have done.”
After IRL drivers Helio Castroneves and Dario Franchitti talked with Gossage about the bumpy transition out of the pits, the apron was repaved from the exit of the pits through turn 2 where drivers transition back onto the track.
Gossage said that fix was a “significant, six-figure paving job” strictly for Indy cars.
Defending NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart was racing in the open-wheel series when the Indy cars first went to Texas. He remembers testing at the 1 1/2-mile track and driving flat-out around the track with so much ease that he sang through his in-car microphone for about six laps one time to prove that to his crew.
“The races here in Texas are the ones in the IRL that I really like to watch the most,” Stewart said. “There’s nothing wrong with this place. … There’s nothing wrong with the facility, I can promise that. There’s no track on the schedule for NASCAR or IndyCar that I look at and say this is a bad place for us to run.”
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