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Another view of Las Vegas Motor Speedway

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  • Another view of Las Vegas Motor Speedway

    Friday, January 18, 2002
    Copyright © Las Vegas Review-Journal

    COLUMN: Jeff Wolf
    Speedway yet to break out its `A' game

    Las Vegas Motor Speedway is Nevada's only major-league professional sports venue, and its annual NASCAR stock car race in the first weekend in March attracts well over 115,000 spectators, making it the biggest sporting event this side of Fort Worth, Texas.

    It's time for the speedway to be handed its annual report card as it enters its sixth season, the fourth since being purchased by Speedway Motorsports Inc., based near Charlotte, N.C.

    Every major entertainment facility, like the speedway, should be subjected to an annual evaluation from the perspective of its customers -- spectators and racers.

    WINSTON CUP WEEKEND

    Grade: B-plus

    Jeff Gordon's victory in the NASCAR Winston Cup race on the 1.5-mile tri-oval in March earned him and a designated fan a $1 million bonus and put Gordon on the path to win his fourth series championship.

    While the race was pretty good, attendance of about 115,000 was down by about 15,000. Speedway officials point to the rain-shortened 2000 event as the main factor in the drop.

    The biggest improvement for fans was an outstanding effort to improve traffic flow, with the utilization of a mass-transit route through Nellis Air Force Base and better utilization of the taxpayer-funded widening of Las Vegas Boulevard.

    OTHER BIG TRACK EVENTS

    Grade: F

    To the speedway's credit, it brought back the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series after a year's hiatus, but less than 10,000 took in what turned out to be a good race. The disappointing crowd could have been because of a starting time on an October Sunday afternoon or a weak marketing effort.

    The inability of speedway management to recognize the importance of investing in playing host to an Indy Racing League or CART event has left the superspeedway with only one major race since the end of the 2000 season.

    The lack of any other event contributed to the failing mark.

    DRAG STRIP

    Grade: B-plus

    Were it just for the highly successful NHRA professional drag racing series, the dragstrip would have received a top mark. The second annual NHRA event in April played to a smaller crowd in 2001, but that was to be expected on the heels of an inaugural event. Bad weather also might have kept some people away last spring. The new NHRA race in October produced an impressive crowd, rivaling the April event.

    What drops the strip's grade is another poor year of organizing and promoting its weekly events. A turnaround came late in the year after the speedway hired Chris Blair from NHRA as its director of dragstrip and dirt track operations. Blair, who took over in August, greatly improved the weekly operation and has created an enterprising schedule for this year.

    SHORT TRACKS

    Grade: C-minus

    An average grade is generous considering the performances of the three-eighths-mile paved Bullring and the nearly unused half-mile dirt oval.

    The Bullring complemented last year's rebuilt track by opening a spacious grandstand, expanded paved pit area and new concession building to make it one of the finest such facilities in the country.

    The Bullring's events were entertaining but plagued by inconsistent rulings by officials, and another year of changing engine specifications that cost racers money and chased others away.

    The dirt track would have been a clear failure if not for the improved racing surface for the World of Outlaws winged sprint-car race in March. The track then completely rebuilt it for the November races.

    EXTRA CREDIT, DEMERITS

    The track's Speedway Children's Charities last year contributed $196,500 to local youth programs, putting its three-year total at about $350,000.

    But to counter that philanthropic effort, the speedway lobbied for passage of a state sales-and-use tax exemption for professional racing teams or organizations based in Nevada. The exemption became law in October.

    Although speedway general manager Chris Powell says he thinks some racing organizations will relocate to Nevada this year, the tax break will cost the state about $400,000 it receives from pro teams already here.

    Another black mark results from numerous layoffs since last summer and decisions by some key management personnel to seek employment elsewhere.

    OVERALL LVMS GRADE:

    C-minus

    Speedway management is likely to blast that low mark, while many racers and spectators will say it's generous.

    The speedway is no doubt a profitable venture, as is Speedway Motorsports Inc., a publicly held corporation that owns and operates five other major motorsports facilities. The Cup weekend provides several million dollars, the NHRA events account for nearly a million and its track rental business is a low-risk revenue source that keeps the facility active nearly every day of the year.

    PROGNOSIS

    This year's major events include the Cup racing weekend, two NHRA national events, two World of Outlaw multiday events and the NASCAR Truck Series.

    This year's promotional theme should be "Status Quo -- Again."

    Status quo isn't good enough.

    Based on staff cutbacks and defections by some key personnel, matching last year's unremarkable season might be a lofty goal.

    Many -- if not most -- in the motorsports industry were surprised that SMI chairman Bruton Smith picked Powell to run the speedway when SMI bought it in 1998. Powell's resume included stints as a sports reporter and a public relations/marketing manager for the sports marketing division of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco.

    After three years of on-the-job training, Powell has done little to ingratiate the facility into the Las Vegas business community or show he has the ability to promote events and cultivate their success.

    Maybe Smith underestimated the challenges his Las Vegas track would face. Not only is Southern Nevada's 1.4 million population small by major-league standards, but the speedway must compete with the country's best entertainment lineup and slot machines on every corner.

    The speedway must grow, and holding out hope that it will get another Cup race is not the answer.

    The speedway needs to either find someone with a proven record in motorsports promotion and management, or lure a top management professional with longtime Las Vegas ties to help Powell turn the speedway into the major-league entertainment venue it should be.

  • #2
    Originally posted by Fueler:
    <STRONG>Friday, January 18, 2002
    Copyright © Las Vegas Review-Journal

    While the race was pretty good, attendance of about 115,000 was down by about 15,000. Speedway officials point to the rain-shortened 2000 event as the main factor in the drop.

    </STRONG>
    And those officials would be WRONG, At least in my case. The reason I did not renew my three tickets was that LVMS did not afford me the opportunity to do so. In order to get any tickets I would have had to purchase a package deal, and even then the seats that I had for 2000 were not available at all.

    So I said the heck with [email protected] and will use the savings to attend two or thre other IRL events.

    Comment


    • #3
      Wolfie is a friend of the IRL, no shill, but gives us a positive boost, when the Sun and Amarillo (sp) {five hours SE} continue to create faults in the IRL.

      Read Jeff's archives from '01 he is an asset to motorsports and an objective one at that IMO.

      Thanks for linking both papers this week Fueler.
      Natural Born Cynic

      What irks me (maybe its too soon for the truth), DW was a 16-oval WIN specialist, yet the vast majority those boohooing for him, hardcarders & fans, alike are the same ones trying to kill anything with more than 9 deg banking & 4 corners, where Dan ultimately made his home...

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by IRLFAN:
        <STRONG>And those officials would be WRONG, At least in my case. The reason I did not renew my three tickets was that LVMS did not afford me the opportunity to do so. In order to get any tickets I would have had to purchase a package deal, and even then the seats that I had for 2000 were not available at all.

        So I said the heck with [email protected] and will use the savings to attend two or thre other IRL events.</STRONG>
        I have also reached the "fed-up" point with NASCAR @ LVMS. I will be there this year, but it will be my last. The annual price increases (kinda nervy, considering the crowd was down last year) and requirement to buy a package to get any kind of decent seat has soured me on the whole thing. I'm tired of sitting in turn 3 for the Cup race because I'd rather experience the city than watch the BGN race.

        But if the IRL were to go back there, I'd be there in a heartbeat. HINT! HINT!!

        Comment

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