I will never forget the time in late 1994 when I was watching a KLAS TV-8 sports report touting the fact that Las Vegas was about to see the creation of a super speedway.
I was lying in bed recovering from brain surgery that I had undergone at Scripps Green Hospital north of San Diego. As an old Review-Journal sportswriter who had heard rumors about a similar endeavor countless times before, I shook my head in disbelief.
Las Vegas has many dreamers who come to town smoking cigars while driving Cadillacs before leaving in the back of a Greyhound bus. In Las Vegas, big-shots with big dreams are a dime-a-dozen and I was certain that the latest dream would become a nightmare in a matter of a few weeks.
However, the person announcing the new addition was actually a person who knew what he was doing.
You see, the person telling the story — Richie Clyne — was the real deal after all. His backers included Bill Bennett and Ralph Engelstad, both hotel-casino owners with real track records. The story we had all heard so many times before wasn’t a pipe dream and instead, it was a real deal.
Clyne was the motivator, the person with the dream who also just happened to think Las Vegas was ready for the big-time, as it related to auto racing. This time, the difference was the fact that Clyne had money people who also believed in Las Vegas knowing full-well that about 85 percent of the fans would travel to Las Vegas to attend races.
When Las Vegas Motor Speedway opened Sept. 16, 1996, there were still people who believed Las Vegas wasn’t ready for big-time motorsports. The night before the Indy Racing League race, workers were providing last-minute additions to the track ranging from the timing equipment to the windows for the suites.
On the next day, some 67,000 fans would arrive on roads that weren’t ready for the onslaught of fans. When Richie Hearn won the first Las Vegas 500, LVMS still needed to complete the masterplan for the future.
However, the promise to build the track had been fulfilled although there was no guarantee of a NASCAR Cup Race or a National Hot Rod Racing Association event. However, the doors had been opened and the future had been enlightened thanks to the fact that two hotel owners and a gifted street hustler had made it all happen.
The abysmal crowds at New Hampshire, cameras don’t lie – and the empty seats in Louden, N.H. don’t lie.
In fact, while the crowd for the NASCAR event on Sunday was poor, there were short track races with more people in the stands than Saturday’s Xfiniity Series race. While the announcers didn’t allude to such, the attendance both days was awful.
Meanwhile, two NHRA championship drag racing events are hosted each year at LMVS, and the NASCAR Sprint Cup event each March draws near-capacity crowd every year – and don’t forget that 85 percent of the fans travel thousands of miles to LVMS and the lights of Las Vegas.
Meanwhile, LVMS has a jam-packed schedule of other events including air races, Electric Daisy Carnival promotions and endless attractions.
In a city of never-ending dreamers, the staff of LVMS continues to dream up events that actually take place when promised. Clyne, Bennett and Engelstad sold the facility to highly-regarded automotive executive Bruton Smith in the late 1990s, and the facility remains a buzz of activity.
And when the Great Recession slammed Southern Nevada in 2008, LVMS continued hosting healthy events on several hundred acres northwest of Las Vegas. In fact, you can bet that LVMS remained a solid part of Southern Nevada when so many other venues suffered.
Truth be known, it’s a good thing that LVMS existed during the Great Recession since the track never missed a beat.
LVMS remains a very solid part of Southern Nevada and its NASCAR Sprint Cup races have lead the way. Seems to me my friends at LVMS would love a second Cup race right in the middle of the Race for the Chase – and everyone would win.
And If it’s a matter of track ownership, New Hampshire is also owned by Bruton Smith, so if it means Smith simply moving a race, the only real challenge would be for NASCAR to move New Hampshire’s July race to the fall in Las Vegas.
An October race either during the day or under the lights would serve as the perfect addition to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Race for the Chase and chances are that the crowd would be much better than the ones at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
You see, LVMS has the Sprint Cup event down to a science since its first Cup race in 1998. The traffic situation has been fine-tuned and the fact that Las Vegas has world-class accommodations sweetens the pot even more.
And besides, the NASCAR awards is now in Vegas. I mean, what other reason does NASCAR need to give LVMS a Chase Race that would be held in October or even November.
Clyne, Bennett and Engelstad all believed that if they built a first-class speedway, the fans would come – and you can bet that the fans would support another Sprint Cup event in the city that never sleeps.