Texas Motor Speedway: from demolition derby to classy joint

[The Marbles occasionally publishes posts from readers on various NASCAR topics. Here's Rob Tiongson on the history of Texas Motor Speedway.JB]

Hard to believe, but it's been 13 years since the grand opening weekend at the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway. Since then, the facility has seen its share of difficulties and successes in its relatively short history. Longtime NASCAR fans may recall the rough initiation TMS had in the sport, particularly during its first two seasons of operation.

Designed as a fast superspeedway similar to its sister facility in Concord, N.C., the races bore a striking resemblances to that of a demolition derby at the summer country fair. The result was an ugly combination of mangled sheet metal and furious drivers. Its grooves and transitions were narrow, almost making Darlington Raceway's treacherous corners seemingly friendlier to some competitors.

Following the ragged introduction to racing, the Speedway Motorsports Incorporated folks decided to ease the fourth turn corner, hoping it would make for a better race for the '98 season. Another disaster would strike the track when water seeped into various parts of the speedway, contributing to qualifying havoc for the Cup gang that year.

Sure, TMS produced some good racing, with 19 lead changes in the 1997 running and 24 in '98. There was no question about the action the track could produce, with side-by-side action as well as some fast, frantic speeds deep in the heart of Texas.

In connection with on-track action, Texas focused on how it could truly improve on its product by having safe, yet exciting events for the fans and teams to enjoy without having to pay the price for a garage full of wrecked machines. SMI President Bruton Smith and TMS President Eddie Gossage were determined to show NASCAR that their facility deserved a double dose of Cup, and since then TMS has proven itself as a worthy track on the circuit.

Texas has come a long way since its initial perception, that of the track that eliminated North Wilkesboro Speedway, North Carolina Motor Speedway, and Darlington Raceway's coveted dates. Texas is a competitive track, averaging 21.5 lead changes and pole speeds that round up to 191.70 mph. More importantly, in its 18 races, there has only been one repeat winner, namely Carl Edwards, who did a Texas Two-Step in 2008.

During the 1990s, the trend in new tracks ran toward facilities like Charlotte Motor Speedway, which produce some of the finest events, from pre-race shows to the actual showdown on the asphalt. But Texas is a unique track, and its two dates are critical for its a big market, as it's one of the state's largest sporting venues. Where else do fans from the Great Plains and Gulf of Mexico regions get to see Cup action?

Plus, for some drivers, it is home to their greatest moments. Who could forget the emotions of Jeff Burton, the '94 Rookie winner, basking in Victory Lane for the first time in 1997? Or the hometown hero in Terry Labonte, who celebrated in his backyard in 1999? The memorable races go on and on. Slowly but surely, Texas has become an established star among the very best in NASCAR's classy facilities.

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