AUSTIN, Texas -- State lawmakers have given Texas Motor Speedway a big helping hand if the state's premier stock-car track wants to lobby for NASCAR's All-Star Race and season-ending championship.
The Texas Legislature approved a bill Thursday that makes those two races eligible for the state's Major Events Reimbursement Program, the same fund that is used to help attract big events such as the Super Bowl, the NCAA tournament's Final Four and Formula One's U.S. Grand Prix. The two NASCAR events would fit right in, too.
"They want to be able to go after those races, just like we try to court a Super Bowl or any other major sporting event," said Rep. Tan Parker, a Republican whose district includes Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. "They will immediately go after them as best they can, and this gives them a tool in their tool box to be aggressive when competing with other venues."
NASCAR has already set its 2018 schedule with the All-Star Race in May in Charlotte and the championship finale set for Homestead, Florida, in November. NASCAR has held the All-Star Race in Charlotte almost every year since it was created in 1985, the lone exception a race in Atlanta in 1986. Moving it would mean uprooting the race from an area most NASCAR teams call home.
Still, some drivers have said they'd like to move those events out of their traditional spots.
Cup Series leader Kyle Larson, who finished second in the All-Star Race last week, has suggested moving both to generate driver and fan interest. Other big leagues do it and so should NASCAR, he said.
"I think you look at other sports, and their all-star games switch venues all the time. It's the same game, so it doesn't really make a difference other than the venue, but for us I think it's really cool to change the venue," Larson said. "I don't know if race tracks could bid on the All-Star Race or bid on the final race of the season, but I think that would be really cool."
Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage declined comment, but previous moves by track officials point to TMS pursuing at least one of those events if the bill gets signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott, whose office oversees the fund.
In a short presentation to House lawmakers in April, TMS general counsel Rob Ramage focused on luring the All-Star Race, which he called a "significant event."
Ramage told lawmakers that Texas Motor Speedway envisions three to five days of events in cities across Texas, including Houston, Dallas, El Paso and Amarillo. He didn't provide any details, and Gossage declined AP's request to detail the pitch Ramage made to lawmakers.
The Senate sponsor of the bill, Sen. Craig Estes, said he wasn't aware of the track's plans but wants to bring the races to Texas for the NASCAR fans in his state.
"As we go through life, we often hear pearls of wisdom ... such as never make a NASCAR fan who votes upset with you," Estes said.
The Major Events Reimbursement Fund is controlled by the governor's office, and eligibility is limited to events specifically noted in state law. For those events, it can be a pot of tens of millions of dollars that can be used to offset expenses of hosting, drastically limiting organizers' financial liability.
The fund is supported by state and local sales taxes, auto rentals, and hotel and alcohol sales taxes generated by the event. According to state records online, the 2016 Super Bowl was eligible for $25 million, and the 2016 Formula One U.S. Grand Prix was eligible for $26 million. For the 2015 and 2016 races, U.S. Grand Prix organizers were eligible for nearly $50 million.
The money paid to the organizers of the U.S. Grand Prix is understood to cover the sanctioning fee the Circuit of Americas racetrack pays to F1. Formula One and track officials have refused to confirm the exact amount of the sanctioning fee, but without the reimbursement from the state, it's unlikely the track could afford to host the race.