After multiple do-overs of the final two laps—known as “overtime” in NASCAR verbiage, allowing for a normal finish in the event of a late-race caution flag—fan favorite Chase Elliott thrilled much of the Texas Motor Speedway crowd on Sunday, ending a winless streak that dated all the way back to October 2022.

With that, the major-league racing season at one of the state’s largest spectator sports facilities ended before Tax Day for the first time in the track’s 27-year history. The season in question lasted all of one weekend.

“There’s nobody happy about it,” said Dewayne Lisenbe of the Fort Worth track’s abbreviated season. Lisenbe, who made the trip from his home in Killeen, about 170 miles south of the speedway, told Texas Monthly he’s been coming to TMS since the venue held its first NASCAR race in April 1997. “Used to come three weekends.”

Back then, the 1.5-mile track accommodated some of the largest gatherings in American auto racing with a seating capacity of about 150,000 (not counting who knows how many packed into the infield). NASCAR rarely provides official attendance figures, but track officials announced several crowds exceeding 200,000 in those early years.

By 2005, TMS was hosting two NASCAR Cup Series races per year—in addition to the circuit’s two lesser series—and also welcomed crowds announced at six figures for IndyCar Series events, which were previously known as the Indy Racing League.

By the 2010s, however, attendance began to dip. The drop was relative—in absolute terms, NASCAR races at TMS were still among the largest sports draws in Texas—but the downward trend was undeniable, and the track reduced seating capacity multiple times. Such problems weren’t unique to the Texas racing scene. Fox Sports NASCAR writer Bob Pockrass told Texas Monthly that roughly three-quarters of Cup Series tracks have downsized in recent years.

In 2021, longtime TMS president Eddie Gossage was given the choice of keeping two NASCAR Cup Series events or trading in the spring date for NASCAR’s All-Star Race. “I said I’ll take the All-Star Race in a heartbeat,” Gossage, who’d worked at Charlotte Motor Speedway before coming to Fort Worth, recalled. “I promoted the All-Star Race at Charlotte. I knew the potential that it had. Unfortunately, still coming off COVID, it was impossible to get sponsors to execute the way that they did at Charlotte.” (Gossage retired shortly after the 2021 All-Star event.)

The All-Star Race was held twice at TMS with crowds that longtime North Texas motorsports writer John Sturbin called “tepid.” Last year, the event moved to North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, which hadn’t hosted a Cup race since 1996. Meanwhile, the spring Cup Series race that TMS gave up in 2021 moved to the Circuit of the Americas, in Austin, which worked out a leasing deal with Speedway Motorsports, Inc., the North Carolina company that built the Fort Worth track under company founder Bruton Smith. SMI is one of two businesses that own most Cup Series tracks across the country. The other, International Speedway Corporation, was absorbed by NASCAR in 2019 and owns almost half of the Cup venues.

SMI can move races among its venues, though any shift requires NASCAR’s approval. What prompted the decision to move the spring Cup Series event to COTA? SMI senior vice president of communications Scott Cooper said scheduling decisions are group efforts involving NASCAR, track ownership and management, and broadcast rights holders. Mark Faber, who took over as TMS’s executive vice president and general manager in August 2022, said he wasn’t involved in the All-Star Race’s departure from Fort Worth.

Lisenbe and his friend, Brian Bannister, also from Killeen, said they attended the first Cup race at COTA’s winding course and won’t return. “You’ve got about three-quarters of a mile stretch [to watch the racing] and then—zoop—they disappear,” Bannister said. “Then you get to sit for two-and-a-half minutes waiting for them to come back around.”

Beginning last year, TMS was left with just one race, in the fall as part of the Cup playoffs. It isn’t the only Cup venue or the only SMI track to be cut back to one race in recent years, but the others are located in smaller markets like Dover, Delaware; Loudon, New Hampshire; and Long Pond, Pennsylvania.

Of SMI’s ten tracks that host Cup races, four currently host two: Charlotte, Atlanta, Las Vegas, and Bristol, Tennessee. ISC tracks host seventeen Cup races, with seven sites hosting two. To the casual observer who might not know that NASCAR owns ISC, the imbalance might appear strange. Why would a track in Dallas–Fort Worth have only one date, while those in Kansas City, Kansas; Darlington, South Carolina; and Martinsville, Virginia, are among those with two? The smaller venues belong to ISC.

Pockrass pointed to the obvious regarding TMS: “It’s so massive, and the crowds didn’t look good even though they got a decent amount of people.” He said he believes more tracks will lose second dates as NASCAR seeks to expand its footprint into new markets. Following the move into Austin in 2021, Cup racing debuted in the St. Louis area two years ago and will run in Iowa for the first time this year.

This year, NASCAR shifted Fort Worth’s one date to April 14, the first time in twenty years that TMS’s only Cup race was held in the spring. Faber said fans and drivers prefer spring racing at TMS over fall to avoid hot weather.

But the shift created a scheduling conflict with IndyCar that resulted in North Texas losing its IndyCar circuit event this year, too.

So, it’s one and done at Texas Motor Speedway for 2024. “It’s shocking,” Sturbin said. “They had the two Cup dates, which Bruton Smith went to war for.”

Looking back on the excitement around TMS in the late nineties, it’s hard not to wonder if Fort Worth’s NASCAR venue will ever reach the same heights again. As a promoter, Gossage neither lacked for creativity nor shied from controversy. Sturbin called him the “P.T. Barnum” of motorsports.

In 1997, drivers complained about the track’s racing surface after its NASCAR debut began with a thirteen-car pileup on the first turn of the first lap. The following year, fans at the ’98 race were able to buy T-shirts that read “Shut Up and Drive.”

“The truth is that was NASCAR’s shirt,” Gossage recalled. “But they were ticked off and [NASCAR president] Bill France Jr. told me I was going to take the heat for it that day. He read me the riot act, said, ‘If you worked for me, I’d fire you.’”

“The good news is,” Gossage said, “as Bruton later told me, ‘You don’t work for him. I don’t care what he says.’”

When Gossage noticed that attendance for the track’s fall Cup event appeared to be suffering from conflicts with the opening weekend of deer season in Texas, he requested NASCAR schedule the fall race at TMS for a different weekend. That plea fell on deaf ears, so Gossage said he expressed his frustration by sending a fifty-pound bag of feed corn to NASCAR headquarters in Daytona Beach, Florida. “They didn’t think that was funny,” he said.

Headline-making controversy at TMS wasn’t always a product of Gossage’s hijinks. The scene in Victory Lane following the initial ’97 IndyCar Series race resembled pro wrestling when a malfunction of the scoring machinery led to a heated argument over who won—Arie Luyendyk or the declared winner, Billy Boat. Texas racing legend A.J. Foyt, who owned Boat’s team, responded to Luyendyk’s intrusion into the trophy ceremony by slapping him in the back of the neck and pushing him into a flower bed. (Luyendyk was ruled the official winner the following day, but Foyt had already taken home the trophy.)

Gossage, who is 65, still lives in the area and said he has returned to TMS only once since his retirement, to deliver a eulogy for a longtime employee. After watching Sunday’s race on television, he said: “I thought they had a great crowd. Looked good. Place looked great. Had a lot of folks there. I think they’re really hitting their stride. It looked awesome.”

The crowd filed out Sunday evening as the sun set amid clear skies—and an audience like that won’t be back at TMS until next spring.

Faber said discussions about IndyCar’s schedule for 2025 haven’t begun. Asked if Texas Motor Speedway is seeking to regain a second NASCAR Cup date, Faber said, “We’re always trying to get events here.”