LVMS doubles its pleasure with Champ Series

Jul 13, 2004 6:19 AM

Las Vegas Motor Speedway announced last week the booking of a Champ Car World Series race this season as the closing act to a double feature that begins with the scheduled NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.

The dual feature event is set for Sept. 25 and will be unprecedented of sorts on a major racing series level. This is the first time Champ Car has actually made a move forward by taking a step backwards. The Series has been in denial for years about their popularity on a scale against the huge audience of NASCAR’s three major levels.

Now it’s obviously apparent they will never survive in their current format of scheduling. There are much more political issues involved with the demise of CART, but regardless, it’s good to see the Series coming to Vegas.

Champ Car explored the possibility of staging a street race on or near Mandalay Bay, but talks stalled after the MGM-Mirage & Mandalay merger. For years I have been dreaming of the ideal road course in Vegas for these high-powered cars to rip in and out of the scenic stretch of Vegas roads. Can you imagine these cars going over the Flamingo overpass turning onto Industrial then downward towards Caesars and roaring uphill behind the Mirage?

Only Surfers Paradise and Monte Carlo could compare as the most scenic street courses. Still, the oval isn’t bad. It’ll only be the second time these cars will have been on an oval. The other race was in Milwaukee earlier this year. Speeds are expected to reach close to 220 mph on the 1.5 mile LVMS oval.

"Ovals have always been a significant part of Champ Car racing history and we haven’t forgotten that," series co-owner Paul Gentilozzi said. "I expect you’ll see a larger number of ovals as we go forward."

Gentilozzi’s co-principal Kevin Kalkhoven was at LVMS for the announcement and he also expressed enthusiasm about the one-year agreement.

"We anticipate it’s going to be a great doubleheader for all of the fans from both series that will be here," Kalkhoven said. "We would happily come back for more than one year. As the fastest growing market in America, it’s important for Champ Car to be in Las Vegas and we need to have a superspeedway race. We’ll see how it goes."

In some ways, Champ Cars have already raced once at LVMS; the Indy Racing League’s Sept. 1996 event at Las Vegas was run using 1995-spec Champ Cars because the IRL’s own cars were not ready until 1997. Arie Luyendyk took the pole at 226.491 mph for a crash-strewn race that was won by Richie Hearn over a 19-year old Michel Jourdain Jr.

Jourdain will again be participating in the event and is one of the stars of the series along with four Las Vegas residents, which should help market the event to the city.

Paul Tracy, Jimmy Vasser, Alex Tagilani, and Patrick Carpentier all live in Las Vegas and they can charm up the event as a King of the Hill type of event — a "loser leaves town" grudge match. Tracy is definitely ready for the challenge.

"I’ve won twice in my hometown of Toronto and this is my second hometown, so I’m very motivated," Tracy said.

"I’ve been here for eight years and I watched that track get erected," said Jimmy Vasser, the 1996 Series champion. "I’ve seen all kinds of racing there and I’m sure that bragging rights and a couple of dinners will be on the line."

Last season, LVMS was somewhat caught off-guard by the 70,000 fans that attended the night truck race after expecting only 25,000. This season they’ll be ready for a Cup weekend kind of crowd even though they know they won’t get that many. In last year’s race, local driver Brendan Gaughan was leading the truck series in points and everyone who was a race fan in the city was rooting for him. They wanted to see him win.

This season is a different story. Steve Park is driving the Orleans Truck that Gaughan drove last season and is struggling. There is no way the track could expect to get what they did last year with just the trucks and no Gaughan this year.

Enter in the Champ Cars and the four Vegas guys, who are prominently seen at all the hottest clubs in town. There might be a great mix for the possibility of getting 70,000 out to the track again and also transforming several NASCAR fans into Champ Car fans along the way. The event will need these drivers to sell it and I think they can.

It’s a very progressive event and Chris Powell should be applauded for being so innovative. If this event is a success, we’ll likely see other tracks follow his lead.

NASCAR takes break

No Nextel Cup racing this weekend. In fact, the Busch series isn’t even running. Only the trucks are in action. From here on out, the Cup drivers will go 18 straight weeks without a break. That is absolutely insane!

Even though Tony Stewart won last week, he didn’t seem too excited about it. Due to the all the backlash over the last three weeks and then knocking Kasey Kahne out of the race, Stewart knew the boo birds would be coming following his victory. He didn’t even do a burnout, knowing the fans would let him have it.

Stewart calmly got out his car and just stood there without the emotion we see every week from the other winners. The guy hasn’t won all season and couldn’t do anything. However, he did show some emotion. When noticing Race Title-sponsored Tropicana Juice carton on the roof of his car, he knocked it right off with a coke smile. Tony’s a Minute Maid juice guy and can’t be caught with the competitor’s sponsor anywhere around him.

Sponsors are the name of the game in NASCAR.

Betting action will be light this weekend in the world of motor sports, but you may do so at the Stations Sports Books and at the Palms. Each locale will be booking the Truck Series at Gateway International and the Indy Racing League (IRL) at Nashville Superspeedway.