Skip to main content
Original Issue


The Dallas Cowboys have taken a lot of ribbing about the hole in
the roof of Texas Stadium, but at least there's an adequate
football field inside. Not so fortunate is Texas's latest
sports-architecture extravagance: Texas Motor Speedway, a
tri-oval north of Fort Worth.

Judging from the tub-thumping by the Dallas-Fort Worth media
last week, you would have thought Texas Intergalactic
Gigaspeedway was opening, with luxury skyboxes that stretched
for 15 miles and overlooked a trackside crowd of 20 million. In
fact, Texas Motor Speedway has a double deck of sky suites
spanning almost a mile. The track's grandstands, with 150,061
reserved seats, have the largest capacity any U.S. sports
facility has ever had at its unveiling. There are 900 acres of
parking lots (though rain last week turned the 500 unpaved acres
into a useless quagmire) and nine helipads to accommodate the
NASCAR moneyed elite. (That is no longer an oxymoron.)
Nevertheless, the Texas speedway lacks one essential element: a
race track that even approaches the standard set by the luxury

By Sunday's inaugural Interstate Batteries 500, Texas Motor
Speedway chairman Bruton Smith's monument to creature comforts
was known sarcastically as Bruton World among the guys who earn
a living on the NASCAR circuit. The track is like a 1.5-mile
roller coaster with no guide rail and cars traveling in excess
of 200 mph as they approach the whoop-de-do turns, which are so
ill-designed as to slow average lap speeds to the mundane 180s.
Sterling Marlin, whose nerve is certified by two Daytona 500
wins, said of the Texas-twister turns, "You go through there
telling yourself, I'm O.K., I'm O.K., I'm Oooooh!"

Drivers had barely begun practice runs last Thursday morning
when rising star Ricky Craven failed to negotiate Turn 4 and hit
the wall backward, suffering a concussion, a fractured right
shoulder blade and two broken ribs. Soon thereafter a classic
Texas gully washer set in, and the rain didn't let up until the
early hours of Saturday, leaving drivers with nothing to do but
ponder Craven's fate and fear for their own. They said that the
exit of Turn 4 was too narrow, that the banking began too late
in Turns 1 and 3 and that the dogleg in the front stretch was
too sharp and too narrow, making it foolhardy to pass at the
prime spectator spot. (What the dogleg configuration does is
create more premium-priced seats.)

As feared, Sunday's race was marred by spinouts and crashes. On
the opening lap, 13 cars wrecked in the first turn; at the
halfway point, 26 of the 43 cars that started the race had been
involved in accidents of varying severity. After his solo crash
brought out the fifth caution flag of the day, Rusty Wallace
said, "It's so difficult to drive out there, I really believe
they are going to have to do a total reconstruction to get it
right." Race winner Jeff Burton appeared more relieved than
jubilant in victory lane. "It was a matter of being patient," he
said, "and not screwing up."

Virtually to a man, the drivers wondered why Smith, CEO of
Speedway Motorsports Inc.--which also owns the NASCAR tracks in
Atlanta; Bristol, Tenn.; Charlotte; and Sonoma, Calif.--could
build a facility that was magnificent on all counts except the
essential one. Truth is, in NASCAR's rush uptown--an abandonment
of its backwoods roots for the big markets--the essence of the
sport is disappearing at breakneck speed.

In order to get Texas Motor Speedway a date on the Winston Cup
circuit, Smith spent $6 million to become part owner of rustic
North Wilkesboro (N.C.) Speedway. New Hampshire International
Speedway owner Bob Bahre bought the remaining share of North
Wilkesboro for $8 million. The two men cannibalized the historic
track for its two Winston Cup dates, Smith taking one to use for
Sunday's race and Bahre adding a second date at his track
outside Boston. North Wilkesboro, located in the heart of the
old moonshine country that gave birth to NASCAR, lies fallow.
Now Smith and Roger Penske, whose own sure-to-dazzle California
Speedway premieres outside Los Angeles in June, are in a bidding
war for Rockingham (N.C.) speedway. The stakes: Rockingham's two

Last year, at the beginning of the end for North Wilkesboro,
Charlotte Observer columnist Ron Green spoke for purists
dismayed by NASCAR's callous dash to the big markets. "We have
seen the best of NASCAR," he wrote, "and it is past."

COLOR PHOTO: JERRY HOEFFER/AP PHOTO/FORT WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM A wreck on the first lap set the tone for the inaugural race. [Race cars in spinouts at the Texas Motor Speedway track]