From the air, Las Vegas Motor Speedway is a fascinating sight. It is yet another example of brilliant minds which once looked beyond barren desert and saw what would eventually become a diamond in the desert.
The home of the March 10-11 blockbuster schedule of auto racing that includes the World of Outlaws on the dirt along with NASCAR Nationwide and NASCAR Sprint Cup Kobalt Tools 400 events, LVMS reportedly generated a $100 million economic boost to Las Vegas.
As Nevada continues to lead the nation in foreclosures and unemployment, LVMS continues to attract top notch auto racing that also draws more than 300,000 fans to the area situated in the northeast valley.
NASCAR weekend each March is not just immense. It’s absolutely mind-boggling, especially considering that the 1,200-acre facility sits on land many thought was worthless 20 years ago.
Back in the early 1990s, street-hustling Richie Clyne envisioned a state-of-the-art motorsports facility across the street from Nellis Air Force Base. He teamed with long-time auto racing enthusiast and helicopter pilot Mel Larson to get ideas by visiting auto racing facilities all over the nation.
Clyne assembled a money team that included hotel executives Bill Bennett and Ralph Engelstad and announced to the world that Las Vegas was about to be the site of a world-class auto racing facility.
Southern Nevada had heard plans like Clyne’s many times in the past. Those who have lived in Las Vegas for any period of time like to say that many so-called big-shots will come to town in a Cadillac and before leaving in the back of a Greyhound.
King Richard Petty tells the writer in 1997 that NASCAR Winston Cup is headed for Vegas.
Journalists get tired of being used by promoters who come to town with big promises only to leave without fulfilling those same promises. The game has been repeated over and over again.
But when Clyne spoke, he brought with him a level of horsepower that would fulfill the promise eventually. Barren land that had been used years ago as the start-finish line of the old Mint 400 off-road race would indeed become a Mecca for auto racing.
What made LVMS an even better story was that the dreamers had no promise of big-time auto racing when they agreed to infuse some $200 million into the racing complex. The fact that the land was situated across the street from Nellis Air Force Base made the idea even more enticing since (a) noise was not an issue and (b) having the Thunderbirds performing on any day was an added show all in itself.
All at once, a 1.5-mile oval and a drag strip were being built without any sort of promise that Las Vegas would ever be the home of either NASCAR or NHRA events. It was undoubtedly a move that separated the men from the boys.
As a publicist with the track back in 1995, I vividly remember the day Clyne announced to anyone would listen that LVMS had just landed its first big event.
Clyne had just hung up with the Indy Racing League and roared that LVMS would host an IRL event Sept. 16, 1996. While the announcement signaled the first in a long list of major events, many on the LVMS staff shuddered considering that so much work still had to be done.
Up until only hours before the IRL event, construction crews were adding the final touches. It was classic Las Vegas as some 67,000 fans visited the track to see Richie Hearn win LVMS’ first major event.
However, there was still significant work that had to be done at LVMS. Construction on the drag strip had been stopped as track officials decided to focus on landing a NASCAR Winston Cup race.
Seven-time NASCAR champion Richard “The King” Petty hinted in an interview that NASCAR had been convinced that LVMS was ready and a date was awarded for the 1998 season.
Wayne Newton congratulates Mark Martin at LVMS in '98,
Mark Martin, a Batesville, Ark., driver who competed at North Las Vegas’ Craig Road Speedway quarter-mile as a teenager in 1978, won the inaugural Cup event at LVMS on a March weekend that also included World of Outlaws and Busch Series races.
As the dream continued to become more of a reality, the rest of the nation began realizing that LVMS was for real and not some flash-in-the-pan. At the same time, the value of the track started to surge as kingpins like Bill France of International Speedway Corporation and Bruton Smith of Speedway Motor Sports were seen visiting and contemplating their next big financial move.
Smith would win the bidding war and the SMI construction crew immediately went to work completing the drag strip, which now hosts a pair of NHRA events. Other improvements were also conducted and LVMS now seems destined to eventually receive its second NASCAR Sprint Cup race sometime in the future.
It’s an incredible story in a city where the dream actually became reality; and it could not have come at a better time.