NASCAR finds home in Vegas

Mar 2, 2004 6:42 AM

It’s hard to believe that Las Vegas is hosting NASCAR’s top division, now the Nextel Cup Series, for the seventh straight year. Since the union began, NASCAR and Vegas have both grown in a classic symbiotic relationship.

But it may be safe to say that Las Vegas has benefited the most. While NASCAR has the huge television contract and great TV ratings, Las Vegas gets to host the largest sporting event in the state of Nevada. Plus the timing couldn’t have been better.

The city has been searching for something to call its own without committing to something like a full-blown stadium, something most pro sports franchises demand.

But an event like a big time NASCAR weekend gives the city something to look forward to and, with only one event a year, it’s easy to prepare for.

As for the NASCAR visitors, the casinos couldn’t have scripted a better cast of characters. The race car crowd comes with money and enjoys spending it, and best of all for the casinos, they love to gamble.

Of all the groups that visit Las Vegas, only the rodeo crowd can compare with the same type of energy. But the NASCAR weekend outweighs NFR days because there are so many more NASCAR fans, almost 70,000 more.

In the casinos this Friday and Saturday night, one can feel the energy of NASCAR everywhere, whether it’s hootin’ and hollerin’ at a blackjack table or the constant ringing of slot machines, the joints will be hopping.

Beyond all the gaming revenue these fans dump into the casino every year, the non-gaming profits are just as staggering. Last year, the weekend generated more than $81.4 million in non-gaming revenue.

Las Vegas can thank legendary visionaries Ralph Englestad, Bill Bennett, and Richie Clyne for making their dream come true when a decade ago they daringly decided to build a track without the commitment of a Winston Cup race.

This weekend, about 140,000 fans will sell out the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, whose Daimler Chrysler 400 has the best rating of any non-Daytona race on television.

At some point, Las Vegas should be considered for a second Nextel race date. California got its extra date last year with 50,000 less seats than Las Vegas.

Look for something big to happen with the 2005 schedule and additional dates to be given to Vegas or Texas, or possibly even both.