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Texas Motor Speedway celebrates 20-year anniversary with a look back at the Top 20 moments since debuting in 1997

by Mike Haag | Posted on Thursday, March 31st, 2016

FORT WORTH – Texas Motor Speedway celebrates its 20th anniversary this year as the country’s most successful major-market motorsports venue by taking a look back at the 20 most significant moments since it opened in 1997.

The moments focus on the annual NASCAR and INDYCAR events, but there also is a number of special events that have their place in speedway history including the unveiling of the world’s largest TV known as “Big Hoss”, the Rolling Stones and several other world-famous musical acts performing at the facility, the Red Bull Air Race World Championship and even a future United States president waving the green flag during the track’s infancy.

With a crowd capacity in excess of 190,000, Texas Motor Speedway is among the largest sports stadiums in the United States and features an array of amenities that make it one of the premier venues in the world of sports. Nicknamed the “The Great American Speedway!,” the 1.5-mile superspeedway located in Fort Worth annually plays host to two races in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, XFINITY Series and Camping World Truck Series as well as one in the Verizon IndyCar Series.

The attendances for the NASCAR Sprint Cup events since the facility debuted annually rank among the nation’s largest sporting events and also are the largest-attended, single-day sporting events in Texas. Since opening, Texas Motor Speedway has had an annual economic impact of approximately $300 million to the North Texas region.

“When I think of Texas Motor Speedway, I think of outside the box, which I like that,” 2014 Duck Commander 500 winner Joey Logano said. “You see (speedway president) Eddie (Gossage) always doing some things kind of crazy to promote the race, they got the Big Hoss TV there, but I also think about the racing. I really enjoy racing at that race track. The track surface is wore in nicely, there’s lot of tire wear so strategy comes into play a lot, so I enjoy coming to Texas.”

I always think big and I always think Eddie Gossage, so hopefully this year Eddie’s going to jump off a building or something really spectacular to really light the show up,” 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick added.

Here’s a look at the top 20 moments in chronological order:

  • April 6, 1997 – Jeff Burton of Roush Racing wins the inaugural Interstate Batteries 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway, bringing the sport back to the Lone Star State in grand style in front of a monstrous sold-out crowd of more than 200,000. The win also was the first of Burton’s Cup career. “It was a big race,” Burton recalled. “That race had been pumped up; there was so much hype about going to Texas for the first time. It was big because it was Texas. It’s pretty cool to go to a brand-new track and be the first winner. It wasn’t just my first Cup win; it was the first Cup win for a bunch of people on our team. We had beaten the people we had all looked up to so it was a very special day for all of us.”
 Jeff Burton, driver of the No. 99 Exide Batteries Ford, celebrates in Victory Circle by raising an Exide battery above his head while standing on his car following his victory in the Interstate Batteries 500, the inaugural NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series (then Winston Cup Series) race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas on April 6, 1997. The win was also the first of Burton's Cup career.

Jeff Burton, driver of the No. 99 Exide Batteries Ford, celebrates in Victory Circle by raising an Exide battery above his head while standing on his car following his victory in the Interstate Batteries 500, the inaugural NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series (then Winston Cup Series) race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas on April 6, 1997. The win was also the first of Burton’s Cup career.

  • June 7, 1997 – J. Foyt administers his version of Texas justice on two-time Indy 500 winner Arie Luyendyk in Victory Lane following the inaugural True Value 500k Indy Racing League event at Texas Motor Speedway.  Foyt’s team is sent to Victory Lane by officials from the United States Auto Club (USAC) and Luyendyk comes in to protest, claiming he was the rightful winner. An overnight review of scoring performed by USAC results in a reversal the next day and Luyendyk is proclaimed the race winner. “I do know I won that race,” Luyendyk recalled. “I know I was the fastest guy out there that night. And what happened in Victory Lane is one of those moments I can talk about and just smile. At least I can … now.” Said Foyt: “Luyendyk and I haven’t really talked about that night much. He doesn’t bring it up and I don’t bring it up, and that’s the best way to handle it. There’s no sense bringing up something that could start the fighting all over again.”

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  • November 1, 1997 – Mick Jagger and The Rolling Stones were among some of the music world’s biggest names to perform at Texas Motor Speedway. Earlier that year, the speedway also hosted two major, star-studded musical festivals – CountryFest on June 14, 1997 and RockFest a week later – that drew a combined estimated crowd of 600,000. The motorsports venue has played host to a number of major artists over the years including Aerosmith, ZZ Top, Willie Nelson, Dave Matthews Band, Foreigner, Sammy Hagar, No Doubt, Vince Gill, Bush, Wynonna, Counting Crows, Randy Travis, Matchbox 20, Hank Williams Jr., LeAnn Rimes, Collective Soul and Jo Dee Messina, among others.

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  • March 28, 1999 – George W. Bush throws the green flag to start the Primestar 500 NASCAR Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway.  Bush, then the governor of Texas, becomes President of the United States a year later. The race also culminates in grand fashion as “Texas” Terry Labonte goes on to win at his home state track.
George W. Bush throws the green flag to start the Primestar 500 NASCAR Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway on March 28, 1999. Bush, then the Governor of the State of Texas, became President of the United States in 2000.

George W. Bush throws the green flag to start the Primestar 500 NASCAR Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway on March 28, 1999. Bush, then the Governor of the State of Texas, became President of the United States in 2000.

  • April 2, 2000 – Dale Earnhardt Jr. celebrates with his legendary father, Dale, in Victory Lane after earning the first win of his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career in the DIRECTV 500. He won by a robust 5.92 seconds over runner-up Jeff Burton, but that win may have never materialized had a late caution came out. “I just remember the car being so amazing and so easy to drive, but also a lot of people don’t know this (but) the clutch broke with 50 laps to go, 40 laps to go after that last pit stop so if we had another restart or late race pit stop I’d have a lot of trouble getting out of the pit stall,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “We were lucky and fortunate that didn’t bite us at the end with any yellow-flag scenarios. The Victory Lane celebration was awesome having Dad there. Anytime Dad was there for a win was awesome.”

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  • October 6, 2001 – World-famous motorcycle stuntman Robbie Knievel successfully jumps the entire 22-car starting field before the Chevy 500 Indy Racing League event, thrilling fans with the death-defying leap. “The ‘$10 Million Texas Indy Car Jump’ is one of the highlights of my career,” Knievel said. “I have jumped my motorcycle over the Grand Canyon, from rooftop to rooftop on buildings in Las Vegas, jumped on the deck of the USS Intrepid and leaped over an oncoming train. I was the first to successfully jump over the fountains at Caesar’s Palace, a jump that almost killed my dad, Evel Knievel, and Gary Wells many years before. But this Texas jump ranks up there.”

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  • September 15, 2002 – Sam Hornish Jr. noses out Helio Castroneves by a scant 0.0096 of a second to win the Chevy 500 as well as clinch the Indy Racing League championship over Castroneves. The finish remains the closest ever in Texas Motor Speedway history and the fifth-closest in series history. “This race was probably one of the more nerve-wracking races I’ve ever run,” Hornish Jr. said. “But it worked out exactly the way we wanted it to. Our goal was to win the race – we didn’t want to finish second. If Helio would have won, we would have tied for the championship. We would have been awarded the title since the tiebreaker was the number of wins for the season. … But that is not the way we wanted to do it. We wanted to win the championship outright.”

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  • June 7, 2003 – Al Unser Jr., driving for Kelley Racing in the Indy Racing League, captures the final Indy-car win of his illustrious career with a victory in Bombardier Learjet 500k. He led the final 13 laps and held off a charging Tony Kanaan by 0.081 of a second for the 34th and final victory of his career. “Everybody in the sport knows the Texas races are the closest,” Unser Jr. said. “It truly is a blast racing there because you get to run wheel to wheel, but it seems everybody respects your space. It is so competitive and here we are in Victory Lane!”

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  • March 14, 2004 – Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage announces that the world-renown motorsports facility will host two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series events annually starting in 2005, with the new fall event becoming the eighth race in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. The inaugural Dickies 500 in November of 2005 would be won by Carl Edwards in a race that established a track record at the time for the fastest average race speed (151.055 mph).
The field of racers is given the green flag for the start of The Dickies 500 NASCAR Race on November 6, 2005 at theTexas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

The field of racers is given the green flag for the start of The Dickies 500 NASCAR Race on November 6, 2005 at theTexas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

  • April 4, 2004 – Elliott Sadler narrowly holds off charging rookie Kasey Kahne by 0.028 of a second in the Samsung/RadioShack 500, which remains the closest NASCAR Sprint Cup finish in Texas Motor Speedway history. The win was the second of Sadler’s career and provided his car sponsor, M&Ms, with their first win in the sport after 14 years. “I didn’t know whether I could hold him off or not, but I was trying to create as much of an aero push as I could on the front of his race car,” said Sadler, who was driving for Robert Yates Racing at the time. “The chips fell in my direction, and we were able to hold on for the win. I’m glad the start/finish line at Texas is closer to Turn 4 than it is Turn 1. Kasey really got a good run off Turn 4. … That was a great win for me. The reason is M&Ms had been in the sport for 14 years and never had won a race. So to be able to give our sponsor its first race win in this business was very special to me.”

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  • November 5, 2006 – Two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion “Texas” Terry Labonte, a Corpus Christi native, runs his final race at his home state track of Texas Motor Speedway in the Dickies 500. Labonte, driving the No. 44 Kellogg’s Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports, would start 43rd and finish 36th. His career would culminate with an induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2016. “The other thing people ask is what I’m going to miss the most. That question is a little easier,” Labonte said afterward. “Without a doubt, it is the people – all the friends and fans that have made my career so memorable for 29 years. It will be hard not seeing them every week, but when the races come to Texas they are welcome to drive down and see us at the ranch. It’s a long trip, but worth every minute.”

Dickies 500

  • November 4, 2007 – Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth engage in one of the most dramatic finishes in speedway history with a door-to-door battle in the closing laps of the Dickies 500, where Johnson emerged victorious and helped cement his second NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship. The two exchanged the lead three times in the final eight laps of the 334-lap event, running side-by-side inches apart at more than 190 miles per hour with Johnson’s championship hopes hanging in the balance with any slight miscue. Johnson overtook Kenseth for the lead on Lap 332 and eventually pulled away for his first career win at Texas Motor Speedway by .944 of a second. “The race against Matt was one of the coolest ones (wins) at Texas and I think in my racing career,” Johnson said. “To race door to door that many laps; both of us sideways and I had everything to lose; but still had the confidence racing against Matt, the confidence I could complete the pass for the lead cleanly and successfully and still go on to win the championship that year makes that race what it is to me. … To know I was racing against Matt and that we would race clean and fair really led to that awesome race that I am so proud of.”
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowes/Kobalt Chevrolet, races Matt Kenseth, driver of the #17 USG Ford, side by side as they pass Juan Pablo Montoya, driver of the #42 Texaco/Havoline Dodge, during the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series Dickies 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on November 4, 2007 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowes/Kobalt Chevrolet, races Matt Kenseth, driver of the #17 USG Ford, side by side as they pass Juan Pablo Montoya, driver of the #42 Texaco/Havoline Dodge, during the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series Dickies 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on November 4, 2007 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

  • November 2, 2008 – Carl Edwards, winner of the Samsung 500 in April, wins the Dickies 500 to become the first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver to complete a season sweep in that series at Texas Motor Speedway. The weekend marks a first in NASCAR history with three drivers from three different series (Edwards-Cup, Kyle Busch-XFINITY, Ron Hornaday Jr.-NCWTS) sweeping the season’s races in the same weekend at the same track.
Carl Edwards, driver of the #99 Office Depot Ford, celebrates winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Dickies 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on November 2, 2008 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Carl Edwards, driver of the #99 Office Depot Ford, celebrates winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Dickies 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on November 2, 2008 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

  • April 5, 2009 – Four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon ends a 47-race winless drought with a victory in the Samsung 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. The win marks his first at TMS and narrows his list of winless tracks to one – Homestead-Miami Speedway – on the current Cup schedule that he has not earned a victory at in his career. “It was the coolest. It was like winning for the very first time,” Gordon said. “Things have changed since I won a race … That’s the first time I’ve ever carried a checkered flag in NASCAR. I used to do that in quarter-midgets when I was 8.”
Jeff Gordon, , driver of the #24 DuPont Chevrolet, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Samsung 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 5, 2009 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Jeff Gordon, , driver of the #24 DuPont Chevrolet, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Samsung 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 5, 2009 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

  • April 19, 2010 – The Samsung Mobile 500 NASCAR doubleheader is postponed by rain and fans are treated to a Monday matinee of 801 miles and more than 5½ hours of virtually non-stop racing. Denny Hamlin, just weeks removed from ACL surgery on his knee, wins the 501-mile Sprint Cup Series Samsung Mobile 500 by edging Jimmie Johnson by 0.152 of a second for the second-closest Cup finish in speedway history. Kyle Busch follows by winning the 300-mile XFINITY Series O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 to become just the third driver in series history to win five consecutive races at one track. He also becomes the first driver to win six races at TMS with five in XFINITY and one in the Camping World Truck Series. “I’ve never seen so many fans on a Monday race like this,” Hamlin said of the crowd that media estimates had in excess of 92,000. “I can’t thank them enough for coming out. It’s just a great day for us.”
Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Ground Toyota, crosses the start/finish line to take the checkered flag and win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Samsung Mobile 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 19, 2010 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Ground Toyota, crosses the start/finish line to take the checkered flag and win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Samsung Mobile 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 19, 2010 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

  • April 9, 2011 – For the first time in Texas Motor Speedway history, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competes on a Saturday night, under the lights, with the running of the Samsung Mobile 500. Matt Kenseth snaps a 76-race personal winless streak to become the fourth Sprint Cup Series driver with multiple victories at TMS. “I like it (nighttime racing) and the weather in Texas – the weather is normally really cold or really hot – but I know that these night races are more comfortable for the fans and this is an awesome race track to run at night,” three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart said of the inaugural Saturday night race.
Matt Kenseth, driver of the #17 Crown Royal Black Ford, crosses the finish line to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Samsung Mobile 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 9, 2011 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)

Matt Kenseth, driver of the #17 Crown Royal Black Ford, crosses the finish line to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Samsung Mobile 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 9, 2011 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)

  • June 8, 2013 – Helio Castroneves becomes the all-time winningest INDYCAR driver at Texas Motor Speedway after capturing the Firestone 550 for his fourth career victory at the venue. The win allows Castroneves to break a tie with former Penske Racing teammate Sam Hornish Jr. for most wins at TMS. The victory is the 28th of his career, moving him into sole possession of 12th place on the all-time Indy-car wins list and passing three-time Indy 500 champion Johnny Rutherford of Fort Worth.
Helio Castroneves of Brazil, driver of the #3 AAA Insurance Team Penske Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the IZOD IndyCar Series Firestone 550 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 8, 2013 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)

Helio Castroneves of Brazil, driver of the #3 AAA Insurance Team Penske Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the IZOD IndyCar Series Firestone 550 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 8, 2013 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)

  • March 19, 2014 – “Big Hoss,” the world’s largest TV and holder of a Guinness World Record, is unveiled during a special event before more than 8,000 fans and special guests including NASCAR star Kyle Busch, three-time Indy 500 champion Helio Castroneves, Duck Dynasty’s Willie and Korie Robertson, SMI Executive Chairman Bruton Smith, SMI CEO Marcus Smith, NASCAR Vice Chairman Mike Helton and Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles. That evening’s new episode of A&E’s Duck Dynasty was featured on the 20,633-square foot TV that towers 12 stories high on the speedway backstretch. “It is the ultimate fan amenity,” Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage said. “To have the biggest one in the world, that’s just one of those ‘Everything is Bigger in Texas’ stories that we are really proud to be a part of.”
Marcus Smith (L) uses a giant remore control to start Big Hoss the largest HD video board in the world at Texas Motor Speedway on March 19

Marcus Smith (L) uses a giant remore control to start Big Hoss the largest HD video board in the world at Texas Motor Speedway on March 19

  • September 6-7, 2014 – The Red Bull Air Race World Championship makes its debut at Texas Motor Speedway, marking the first time in series history that it features a race at a speedway venue in the United States. France’s Nicolas Ivanoff edges Nigel Lamb of Great Britain to win the inaugural Masters Class event on the final day of the two-day event.
Nicolas Ivanoff of France performs during the sixth stage of the Red Bull Air Race World Championship at the Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas, United States on September 5, 2014.

Nicolas Ivanoff of France performs during the sixth stage of the Red Bull Air Race World Championship at the Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas, United States on September 5, 2014.

  • November 2, 2014 – Jimmie Johnson wins the AAA Texas 500 for a record third consecutive year in an entertaining green/white-checkered finish, but it is an altercation between Chase for the Sprint Cup contenders Jeff Gordon and Brad Keselowski following the race that makes national headlines. Contact between Keselowski and Gordon during the first of two green/white-checkered finishes results in a chaotic scene between the drivers and crews on pit road as a brawl erupts. “It’s his disregard for what’s going on out there,” Gordon said afterward about Keselowski. “He does things that force his team to have to defend him like that. I mean it’s a shame. It’s a real shame, you know? He made an over-aggressive move. Those moves are fine if you’ve got a slamming, banging race. But he cut my left rear tire and that was it for me.”
Jeff Gordon, , driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet, confronts Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Miller Lite Ford, on pit road following the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on November 2, 2014 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Jeff Gordon, , driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet, confronts Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Miller Lite Ford, on pit road following the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on November 2, 2014 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Story and photos courtesy of Texas Motor Speedway Media Relations

About the Author

Mike Haag has covered motorsports in San Antonio and South Texas for more than 30 years. In addition to working for the San Antonio Express-News for nearly 28 years, Mike also has co-hosted TrackSmack with Dawn Murphy for 15 race seasons. In addition to being a writer, Mike also teaches English at Floresville High School.