Mike Neff · Thursday March 16, 2006
Another year of Nextel Cup racing at Las Vegas Motor Speedway is in the books. Luckily, a thrilling finish helped the fans stomach another less than captivating race, as the stands were full as usual.
The thing is, though, you could probably race lawnmowers at Vegas and the stands would still be full. This track is all about location, and the bright lights of entertainment and gambling casinos of Vegas ensure there will always be fans around willing to attend the race.
But a funny thing happened at the track, probably before the last driver’s Lear Jet took off for home. Bulldozers started tearing up the track surface. By the time the traveling circus that is Nextel Cup Racing returns to Las Vegas in 2007, the track is going to be completely redone. Pit road is going to be moved closer to the fans. The word is, variable banking is going to be employed. With sellout crowds, and a surface that was just beginning to age, it begs the question: Why?
The quick answer lies with the track’s owner, Bruton Smith. Bruton is the consummate promoter…he is all about getting fans into the stands. Even though the track sells out, and the facilities are first rate, Bruton is going to tear up the track surface and redo it. Why? Because the fans have been grumbling; they’ve been complaining to Bruton that the racing at the track is boring.
Now, one thing Mr. Smith cannot stand is to hear his fans complain that his product is not first rate. So he is going to plow up the track and put in a new surface. The track is going to have more banking, possibly the type of variable banking used at Homestead that has turned that track into one of the best in the circuit. Although the price tag will be high, he’ll do it without one iota of complaining, all in the name of giving the fans a better race.
You may not always agree with Bruton, but one thing is certain, he tries his best to put on a good show. He built condominiums at his track when everyone said there was no way anyone would buy them. Those condos now sell for over half a million dollars. He put lights around his track when people told him he was crazy. Now the word is every track on the circuit, with the exception of Talladega and the road courses, is going to have lights installed within the next few years. He has staged full-scale invasions of the frontstretch before races. He puts on concerts for the fans as an added attraction before each event. When Charlotte Motor Speedway was turning into a one-groove track, he paid millions of dollars to have it levigated. That experiment failed, so he tore it up and repaved it. Failure was not an option; every single track renovation is designed to bring in the fans and give them a great show for their money.
Now, no one is saying Bruton is an angel. There is no doubt that putting butts in the seats puts a whole bunch of money in his pockets. Mr. Smith is one of the two people responsible for the loss of racing at North Wilkesboro. He is also indirectly responsible for the loss of racing at Rockingham. But the bottom line is, Bruton Smith knows what side his bread is buttered on. He does everything in his power to give the fans a good show, because that keeps them coming back. It would have been nice to see what the Car of Tomorrow would do on the Vegas track as it is currently configured, but that is three years away. Bruton wasn’t going to take the chance on the fans becoming disenchanted by three more boring races before we had the chance to see how that would work out. So he is shelling out another few million dollars to completely rebuild all aspects of the race track, from pit road, to the racing surface, to the garage. For that, we should all give him a hearty round of applause and say thank you Mr. Smith.
On a side note, Darrell Waltrip said something on SPEED’s Trackside this week that I had never thought of before. When the new track explosion occurred a few years ago, everyone was trying to figure out why in the world everyone was building 1.5-mile cookie cutter tracks. The quick answer was it offered the fans the best viewing of the entire track, and allowed the optimum seating capacity for the space provided. Most fans probably believed that to be true. D.W.’s observation made a lot more sense. The tracks were being built at the same time the IRL was starting up. Most of the track owners were looking to be able to host multiple events every year. By building 1.5-mile tracks, they could not only attract NASCAR, but they could entice the fledgling IRL as well. The result was a bunch of tracks without enough banking to really put on a good NASCAR show, but a little too much speed for a safe IRL show.
We are now stuck with several tracks that have boring NASCAR races. Here’s hoping Chicago, Kansas and Kentucky take a page out of Las Vegas’s book, and reconfigure their tracks as well. It would be awesome to see one or two of them really step up and tear their track to pieces in favor of making it a Â¾-mile track. However, let’s at least hope they’ll follow Bruton Smith’s lead, and build some more banking into their racing surfaces to enhance the amount of side-by-side racing. Bruton is smart enough to realize the value of that…why can’t everyone else?
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