|PT Taunsinga has retired from Las Vegas Motor Speedway and gone home to feed her flock.
Heart and soul of LVMS considered driving force of track’s creation
LAS VEGAS -- Patricia “PT” Tausinga -- the woman believed by many to be the heart and soul behind the creation of Las Vegas Motor Speedway -- has gone home to feed her sheep and spend more time with her husband, David, at the couple’s home in southwest valley.
The colorful Tausinga, who hotelman Ralph Engelstad put in charge of watching his $200 million investment while also spearheading the construction process of LVMS, retired recently from the facility in the northeast Las Vegas Valley.
As senior director of administrations for the 1,500 acre facility since ground was broken in 1994, she has done everything from guide the construction to sign out golf carts; direct traffic and arrange meetings to identify a few of her many responsibilities.
And while there was no official going away party when Tausinga left LVMS, the energetic and multi-talented former Minnesota farm girl is recalling the memories generated working with a long list of VIPs ranging from Engelstad and fellow hotelman Bill Bennett to street-hustler and dream weaver Richie Clyne not to mention various auto racing-related big-timers such as Richard Petty, AJ Foyt, Rusty Wallace, Carroll Shelby and anyone else who had a tie to motorsports.
While the track now hosts a NASCAR Sprint Cup race annually and also stages two NHRA drag races along with a NASCAR truck event, it doesn’t seem that long ago that the area was desolate and Las Vegas was without a major auto racing event.
With Bennett and Engelstad providing the cash and Tausinga riding herd over the project, the “Diamond in the Desert” became reality even though many naysayers doubted it would ever happen.
“I’ll never forget our first meeting to discuss the building of the track,” says Tausinga, who arrived in Las Vegas from Minnesota more than 40 years ago. “We had Hugh McDonough, Shelby, Richie, (engineer) Dave Weir, (architect) Merlin Barth, (local medical expert) Dr. Dale Carrison, (advisor and PR guy) Mel Larson, (Clark County Health District exec) Claire Smooth and (interior designer) Paul Seibert all at the Imperial Palace.”
In what might have seemed like a group running on a wing and a prayer, a dream was becoming reality and Tausinga was about to embark on a journey that would not only bring world-class auto racing to the area but also illustrate the woman’s talent as a multi-tasker.
“Richie called me and told me to get to K-Mart and buy a pair of shorts and tennis shoes and get to what was about to become a race track,” she recalls with enthusiasm. “He had me get into his Suburban which he was driving like a wild man before we finally got stuck.”
Clyne coined the name “PT” saying that “Patricia” was too common and Tausinga was too hard to remember. From that day on, Patricia Tausinga has been addressed as “PT” by everyone from janitors and window washers to holier-than-thou auto racing types representing race cars, sponsorship opportunities and sanctioning bodies.
|PT Tausinga has never feared anything during her career.
And while Tausinga might not have realized it at the time, Engelstad’s investment was even more intriguing since NASCAR would not guarantee a Cup race simply because the track was built. And when the NHRA wouldn’t guarantee a national points event, Engelstad stopped construction on the drag race facility creating yet another frenzy.
In a city where gambling is commonplace, this particular roll of the dice made high-rollers seem like chump change. There was intrigue, excitement and a mystical element knowing that so many stories like this one had never got past the press conference stage in Las Vegas.
The difference this time was that Engelstad and Bennett had the money and when combined with Clyne and Tausinga, a fascinating team was formed.
Then, Clyne announced to anyone who would listen after a phone call with Indy Racing League President Tony George that the track would host an IRL race Sept. 16, 1996, so Tausinga and Co. went to work promoting a race long before the final touches had been added to the facility.
“It was crazy,” Tausinga remembers now recalling the pressure added by the addition of the IRL event. “We were nowhere near being ready for a race and before we knew it, we were about to showcase the facility with a major event.
“But anyone who knows Richie knows he can sell tires to someone who doesn’t even own a car and he believed we could pull it off.”
Tausinga put her head down, stuck her foot on the accelerator and thinks back now remembering how windows had to be added to the suites the night before the race and the elevators weren’t working properly. Throw in the fact that there was no traffic plan to handle the 67,000 fans that would attend and the debut of LVMS certainly had its bumps in the road.
However, no matter what the issue, Tausinga has been known as the ultimate leader; someone able to cut to the chase and spot a fraud without having to take a second breath.
“I’ll tell you one thing about PT,” said long-time Indianapolis race publicist Jan Shaffer, who first met Tausinga when working the press room for the Las Vegas 400 IRL race before returning to handle NASCAR’s first Winston Cup race in 1998. “She can spot a flake from a mile off and if you’re not prepared when you enter her office, you’ll go out of there with your tail between your legs.”
Shaffer recalls vividly the first time he met Tausinga.
“I walked into her outer office and she had a radio in one hand and a telephone in the other and I waited appropriately to enter,” he said. “After about 10 minutes, she put them down and said, "Who are you? I introduced myself and she said "What do you want?"
“I told her I was running the press operation and she immediately replied "What has that got to do with me?"
“I squirmed out of her office and made up my mind that I would never again walk in there without business to conduct, and conduct quickly. Since I did, PT and have been friends ever since.”
Shaffer still remembers time when the weather was bad at LVMS.
“She was talking to me while checking her phone messages,” he explained. “The voice came over the answering machine, "PT, that rain last night left the south end of the building flooded again and while I'm calling, we still have those mice at the north end." PT glared at the phone and said, "Have the mice drink the water" and pulled up the next message.”
Shaffer referred to Tausinga as “a real team player” adding “If she likes and trusts you, you’re gold. But if you’re a flake, don’t even bother coming into her office because she’d run you out before you got done with your pitch. Lord help anyone who tries to get something past her.”
Carrison, whose own career included working with the FBI before going on to become a doctor and serving as the track medical director, considers Tausinga invaluable. In fact, Tausinga said Carrison has been a big reason for the track’s success considering his insistence regarding the safety of the track.
“PT is one of the core people, one of the key people who gets things done,” says the 70-year-old Carrison, whose own busy schedule includes serving as chair of the Nevada Commission on Homeland Security along with working as Chairman of Emergency Services for University Medical Center. “She is an awesome human being and there is no one like her.
“I will never forget her running that construction trailer when everything was started. There could not have been a better person to run the construction of the track.”
Clyne, who like everyone else had to earn Tausinga’s respect from the get-go, refers to Tausinga as “multi-faceted, and then some. Nobody can multi-task like PT.”
Now a summer resident of New Hampshire where he has a cabin along a lake, Clyne still stays in touch with Tausinga especially when he moves to Southern Nevada for the winter.
“When she worked for Ralph, one minute it was the hotel; then it was real estate and then it was antique cars. It was on and on and on with Ralph and PT always got the job done.”
Larson, who raced in the first Mint 400 in 1968 while helping Bennett who was the Mint’s GM, was also on the ground floor of LVMS with Tausinga and others.
“I remember seeing PT with Ralph and Richie,” remembers Larson, who would fly key personnel all over the country reviewing other race tracks. “Ralph and Bennett were really good friends then.
“PT was helping Richie run the auto collection and she was a sharp lady. Anytime something was being done, she was there. She was a ball of fire and got things done.
“All we had to do was tell PT something, and she wrote down everything and followed through. And if you found out when you got back that you forgot something, you just called PT and she took care of it. She is so efficient and business-like. If I ever had to hire someone, PT would be at the top of the list. I told Bruton that if he bought the track, he had to hire PT.”
Smith’s SMI umbrella also includes race tracks in Fort Worth, Tex., Sonoma, Calif., Charlotte, N.C., Atlanta, Ga., Loudon, N.H., Sparta, Kentucky, and Bristol, Tenn.
Smith and NASCAR Chairman Bill France came to Las Vegas to see about purchasing the facility in what might have been considered a bidding war in 1997. Tausinga knew Smith was the right man to complete the drag strip, while adding other important amenities to the stock car track.
“Bruton kept the track from turning into a white elephant,” Tausinga analyzes now. “He fears nothing and the bottom line was that he really took the track to another level in so many ways.”
For now, Tausinga is happy to be taking care of her sheep. The soft side of her is evident when she walks into her back yard and is immediately met by the flock eagerly awaiting handouts of bread.
A member of the LDS faith who is commonly seen with a cigarette, she continues to tell it like it is while also taking care of the flock. Like her many friends, the sheep obviously understand that Tausinga is always there offering a lending hand.
“I have been in touch with many of my friends since retiring,” she says while touring a home that is packed with auto racing photos. “I also want to get involved with charities.”
Michelle Yegge, who worked with Tausinga at LVMS, adds “No matter what PT does, she’ll do it right. When PT accepts responsibility for a particular chore, you can check that off your list. Nobody gets things done better than PT.”
“We will never forget the memories we all shared at LVMS,” Tausinga says now. “You must be a team because no one person makes things work. You need to come together and make it work. Every one of us worked toward the goal and there weren’t any of us who didn’t believe we could make it work.
“I remember the time at 5 in the morning before our first NASCAR Winston Cup race in 1998 and I looked up and saw Las Vegas Motor Speedway Exit 54 sign on I-15. I knew then that it was real. We came so far, but we knew we would get the job done. We worked there because we cared.’’