Multiple news outlets are reporting the death of Las Vegas auto racing and gaming pioneer Mel Larson. Larson was 87.
Born in Plymouth, Mich., Larson joined the Air Force after high school and was, for a time, stationed in Phoenix. He began a career of racing cars and promoting races in 1952. Larson competed in virtually all forms of racing from NASCAR to off-road racing.
In 1956, Larson was an active competitor on the NASCAR circuit and also served as the series’ public relations director. In the 1960s, he began promoting races in the Phoenix area, and sold closed-circuit broadcasts of the Indianapolis 500.
Larson came to Las Vegas in the late 1960s as a competitor in the Mint 400. After racing in that event in 1968 and 1969, he began promoting the popular race. During this time, Larson and Mint Hotel General Manager William Bennett became friends.
When Bennett bought the Circus Circus Hotel-Casino in 1974 he convinced Larson to relocate from Arizona to Las Vegas as the hotel’s public relations director. By late 1975, Larson was a vice president at Circus Circus and in 1986 he became a corporate vice president.
After he retired from Circus Circus in 1992, Larson helped in the conceptualization of Las Vegas Motor Speedway (LVMS).
Larson also developed the heliport for Mercy Air, a helicopter service that transports injured and sick patients and owned a home on the south end of Las Vegas Blvd. near the heliport facility.
Larson was inducted into the Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Fame in 2008.
LVMS president Chris Powell said in a statement. “Mel was an icon in many areas,” “He was instrumental in getting LVMS built, but his reach goes far beyond that in Las Vegas. He was an original when it came to promotion, whether it was a race or stunt to get attention for one of the casinos he represented.”
Powell added, “He leaves behind a lasting legacy and will be missed by many. Our prayers are with his wife, Marilyn, and all of the people Mel has touched throughout the years.”
Mercy Air Ranch posted the following on its Facebook page: “Our heart is with Marilyn and the Larson family along with our crews that have gotten to know them through our years at the MA7 base at Action Ranch”.
During his time at Circus Circus, Larson was known for his affable nature and winning personality. Bennett and Larson combined to make Circus Circus an iconic Las Vegas institution, according to industry observers. Larson, in later years, was also known to present newly introduced acquaintances with a little gift or trinket as a remembrance of the meeting.
Funeral arrangements are pending.