Along for the Ride

Las Vegas NASCAR draws fans from around the world

By: Kathy Espin

When the mega-event known as Las Vegas NASCAR weekend kicks off March 10-12, it will mark the 10th anniversary of the speedway’s opening. The track and the event have come a long way in a decade.

According to NASCAR, there are more than 75 million race fans in 150 countries, and it seems like a large portion of them will travel to Las Vegas for the Sam’s Town 300 on March 11 and the UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400 on March 12.

Okay, so maybe it’s not the entire 75 million, but the estimated 150,000 fans who do converge on the city for the weekend will take up every one of the city’s 130,000-plus rooms as well as those in towns for miles around.

The track on the extreme north rim of the Las Vegas Valley was originally built by a group of local investors and developers including the late Ralph Engelstad, owner of the Imperial Palace; and the late Bill Bennett, co-founder of Circus-Circus Corp. The track originally had 107,000 seats.

Two years after the speedway opened, its entire 1,600 acres were purchased by Bruton Smith, a self-made billionaire who also owns the famous Lowes Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C., as well as three other tracks.

During his tenure, Smith has spent almost $50 million to improve and expand the facility, and there are no signs that he will be stopping any time soon. He added what has been called the country’s best drag-racing facility and rebuilt an asphalt track known as the Bullring.

By the time next year’s races roll in, Smith will have added about 30,000 seats over three years. He plans to spend an estimated $40 million this year to completely rebuild the infield, build a new media center and team garages and add more spectator areas including more space for infield parking (or partying).

Today, the track has the distinction of being the first new super-speedway to be built in the Southwest in more than 20 years. The track features the 1½-mile super-speedway, a 2½-mile road course, the 4,000-foot-long drag strip, paved and dirt short tracks, motocross circuits, truck-racing facilities, go-kart tracks, a Junior Drag racing strip and racecar driving schools.

In spite of the huge popularity of the sport, the Las Vegas Strip casinos have been slow to get involved, said speedway public relations director, John Bisci, perhaps because of the track’s remote location from the Vegas scene.

Sam’s Town, a casino/hotel known for catering to local clientele, jumped into the action early on by sponsoring a preliminary race on the Saturday before the “big” 400 race on Sunday. Sam’s Town is part of Boyd Gaming Corp., which owns the Stardust along with a dozen or so local and downtown casinos. The company is so devoted to the NASCAR fan base, it also sponsors a 250-mile Busch Series race in Memphis, Tenn., near the company’s casino in Tunica, Miss.

The Sahara Hotel and Casino, once owned by track founder Bennett, was also an early supporter. The casino has an entire wing with a restaurant and rollercoaster that boasts a NASCAR theme.

This year’s race weekend generated between $25-$30 million for the track and more than $167 million for the city, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. Next year, the numbers will be even higher with even more seats available and more resorts participating with room and ticket packages, special entertainment and appearances by race drivers past and present.

The huge influx strains even Las Vegas’ resources, a city that thrives on accommodating large crowds. Interstate 15 heading north toward the track becomes a parking lot for three days, beginning with qualifying rounds and pre-race events on Saturday, March 10. Helicopter services are busy during the event shuttling high-rollers to and fro. Shuttle buses are available and many fans take RVs and camp in the infield for the entire event.

Some fans have been known to beat the traffic by booking rooms in Mesquite, Nev., a little town about 90 miles north of the track. Many say they can make the trip to the track faster than those traveling the 14 miles from the Strip.

Tickets to the event start at around $65 for grandstand seats and go up into the thousands for skybox packages for the weekend. Many Strip resorts offer ticket and room packages, and complete travel packages including air can be found on the Las Vegas Speedway’s Web site.

By the time the race begins, the track will have finished the new Richard Petty Terrace adding 17,000 seats. The new terrace along with the Dale Earnhardt Terrace offer excellent views of the speedway and a panoramic view of the Strip.

While the big weekend in March attracts the most visitors, there are events throughout the year at the speedway and other facilities.

Fans who visit Las Vegas any time of the year will have to make the trip out to the track for one of the daily tours. For $8 per person, clients can see all of the facilities they see on TV plus, when the track is not in use, they can walk the speedway and stand on the finish line for a photo. Tours leave from the track gift shop, and group tours are available.


Las Vegas Motor Speedway
800-644-4444 (for tickets)
702-632-8260 (for tours)


Dan Stark, Boyd Gaming Corp. director of marketing, said that with his company, “it’s all about horsepower.”

The company that owns Sam’s Town Hotel and Gambling Hall, the Stardust Resort and Casino and a host others including the recently acquired Coast casinos, was one of the first major resort companies to become actively involved in the NASCAR races at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The company also participates in the Las Vegas Air Races held at Nellis Air Force Base in November and the National Finals Rodeo in December.

Sam’s Town sponsors the Sam’s Town 300 held the day before the UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400 held at the speedway in March and hosts a series of events that promote the race. All the Boyd Gaming properties offer NASCAR packages, including tickets, rooms, transportation to the track and more, Stark said.

The company will host the Speedway Children’s Charity Drivers Auction on Thursday March 9, in the Sam’s Town Live concert venue. There, bidders vie for the opportunity to ride with the drivers in the pre-race parade lap on race day. Some of the drivers make personal appearances at the event. Ricky Rudd, Greg Biffle, Kyle Petty and Kurt Busch are among NASCAR stars who have attended, Stark said.

Between the sale of $35 tickets and the auction revenue, the event raised $180,000 for children’s charities last year.

Sam’s Town and its sister properties hold meet-and-greets and autograph-signing parties for the drivers. The hotel will also be the site of a pre-race party on Friday sponsored by Anheuser-Busch and local radio station KWNR, where attendees can win race tickets and passes to a VIP party at the track on Saturday.

Commissions vary from property to property, Stark said, so check with the individual properties.

For more information on the Las Vegas Air Races, visit