|NASCAR's Harry Gant, left, and Mike Henle pose in the media center of Las Vegas Motor Speedway to recall the Nevada Motor Sports Awards presented in 1983-84 at in the Siegfried and Roy Theater of the Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas. Gant was a speaker during one of the events and still talks about the event which honored Nevada's top motorsports competitors.
In the years well before the boom of motor sports in Southern Nevada, I had a dream based on the fact that there simply was not enough recognition of local racing.
As the auto racing writer for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, I wandered into the office of Frontier Hotel publicist Jim Seagrave with the idea to take motorsports to another level.
At the time in the early-1980s, the city’s biggest attraction was the Caesars Palace Grand Prix run adjacent to the hotel casino. The Mint 400 desert race had been around for more than two decades and several other elements of racing included stock car racing at Craig Road Speedway in North Las Vegas along with drag racing at the Las Vegas International Speedrome and desert motorcycle events throughout the valley.
But nobody had ever attempted an awards ceremony lauding all of the sports under one roof. I had thought a gathering in a convention hall would suffice, but Seagrave had other ideas.
“Let’s do it in the Siegfried and Roy showroom,” Seagrave suggested.
| A rising stage with cars was a huge hit at the Nevada Motor Sports Awards in 1983-84.
A few minutes later, Seagrave was on the phone with a choreographer named Tim Allen – himself a former desert motorcycle racer – and before I knew it I was announcing to the world that auto racing in Southern Nevada was about to get its just due a few months later.
We came up with six categories – stock cars, desert motorcycles, motorcycle motocross, drag racing, sand drags and off-road racing. The promoters of each category nominated three candidates for the overall Nevada Motor Sports Competitor of the Year.
Off-roading was represented by Rod Hall, Jack Johnson and Rob MacCachren, while drag racing’s top competitors included Bill Aymar, Mike Dike and Jerry Mock.
The top entrants for sand drags were Dale Ashby, Harold Butt and Don Center while Bob Davidson, Johnson and Anthony Pasqualotto were named tops in desert motorcycles.
Pasqualotto, Chip Miller and Pat Shields were named the top motorcycle motocross performers.
All of a sudden, I had a job on my hands orchestrating an event scheduled Jan. 17, 1983 at the Frontier gathering everything from countless photos to making sure we had trophies and money collected from sponsors to pay for the endeavor.
Equally as important was the fact that the charity – the Lions Burn Center at UMC – was to be given whatever money was left after paying the bills.
Thankfully, off-road promoter Denny Selleck had the sponsorship element covered because of his relationship with Skoal, which at the time was heavily-involved in events presented by the Southern Nevada Off-Road Enthusiasts, better known as SNORE.
As time grew closer for the event to be presented, the wildly-talented Allen went to work putting together a slide show and Tony Scodwell – one of the nation’s premier trumpet players – agreed to assemble a band that would work hand-in-hand with Allen in choreographing the event.
I would wake up in the middle of the night worrying that particular slides had been secured for Allen’s presentation which would be done perfectly as Scodwell had the band play the music. Even more worrisome was the concern that we wouldn’t make enough money to (a) pay the necessary bills and (b) have enough left to help the Lions Burn Unit.
After a meeting with several media types to select the events top nominee, we headed for the Siegfried and Roy Theater for a rehearsal. When we were done, Selleck noticed a stairway leading downstairs and we decided to go exploring.
When we got to the bottom of the stairs, we went left only to discover that an open door led us into a room full of cages with doors wide open where Siegfried and Roy stored their tigers, lions and the rest. Meat was still in the cages and we immediately feared that the wild animals were running loose in the room (they were not since Siegfried and Roy took them to their home at the end of each evening).
When show time finally arrived, Allen equipped me with a script and I was ready to get things rolling. Scodwell and the band were perched high above the showroom floor and workers were preparing to lift race vehicles onto the showroom floor in a dramatic fashion that included dry ice which gave the look of smoke.
All that to the Scodwell’s music of 2001: A Space Odyssey. The affect of the 600 in attendance was dramatic as we launched a show that was supposed to have been in a smoky convention room somewhere.
My co-emcee KJ Howe, whose combined talents included serving as race director of the Mint 400, waltzed onto the stage singing “KJ and Mike….KJ and Mike” to the same tune used by Siegfried and Roy when the two opened the shows at the Frontier.
| Las Vegas Review-Journal auto racing writer Mike Henle, left, congratulates drag race promoter Alex Rodridguez at the Nevada Motor Sports Awards in 1983.
Johnson, who proved as talented on motorcycles as he was in four-wheel competition, was named the 1983 Nevada Motor Sports Competitor of the Year.
While former Indy 500 great Rodger Ward was the guest speaker in 1983, Selleck had secured the services of NASCAR great Harry Gant, who was sponsored by Skoal for the 1984 event.
“Man, this is something,” Gant said addressing the crowd. “I mean, NASCAR has its awards at the Waldorf Astoria in New York, and it’s not as nice as this.”
We returned in 1984 for another Nevada Motor Sports Awards this time honoring stock car kingpin Dick Cobb as the Nevada Motor Sports Competitor of the Year. The Lions Burn Units was the recipient of several thousand dollars both years and the events were deemed great successes.
In truth, the Nevada Motor Sports Awards was before its time and as Gant alluded, NASCAR should have been looking to Las Vegas clear back then.
Some 28 years later, Gant was still lauding the Nevada Motor Sports Awards as he spoke inside the media center of Las Vegas Motor Speedway during the running of NASCAR Weekend March 4.
“I’ll never forget it,” Gant laughed. “Cars rising out the stage with smoke and everything.”
Fittingly, NASCAR’s yearend awards were brought to the Wynn in Las Vegas two years ago thanks in part to the staff of Las Vegas Motor Speedway, which opened with an Indy Racing League event in 1996 before adding its first NASCAR Cup event two years later.
Las Vegas motorsports deserved the Nevada Motor Sports Awards back in 1983-84, and the city especially deserved the NASCAR awards now presented at the Wynn on the famed Las Vegas Strip nearly 30 years later.