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It's Vegas, baby!


The Vegas Strip, new home to NASCAR's annual awards banquet (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern

   FORT WORTH, Texas
   NASCAR in Vegas just got a whole lot bigger.
   The annual December NASCAR awards banquet, which has been something of a hard-sell in jaded New York City, is set to move to glitzy Las Vegas: from the hallowed Waldorf Astor to either the exotic Mandalay Bay, the classic MGM, or the in-your-face Bellagio.
   None of the participants in the dealings would confirm anything on the record, but NASCAR sources insisted Friday it's a done deal for 2009.
   NASCAR executives stayed low-keyed on it but refused to rule it out.
   Bruton Smith, who is the second-most powerful man in NASCAR as head of the Speedway Motorsports (NYSE: TRK) track empire, which includes Las Vegas Motor Speedway, wouldn't confirm anything himself. After all it's a NASCAR deal, and letting NASCAR officials make the PR play is clearly wise politics.
   However the cat is already out of the bag  -- Las Vegas is planning to use the NASCAR event not only to promote the city itself, in these sluggish economic times, but also to make the case that it's okay for corporate America to come to Vegas for conventions.
   Las Vegas' lifeblood is the convention trade, and the image of that city as an unnecessary added corporate expense, in the eyes of many this year, has been damaging.
   NASCAR too needs a big shot in the arm, and putting Las Vegas out there like this can only help.
   Plus, Smith says he wants to invite 10,000 race fans to the banquet and its planned side events.
   The New York City venture has been pretty much invitation-only, with only a small number of insiders invited.
    "It's no secret Las Vegas would be a good location….but beyond that, nothing's set in stone," NASCAR's Jim Hunter said.
   After all, there could be some serious bidding yet to do. The city of Las Vegas itself will apparently budget at least $1 million for promoting the event, which is focused on Friday night Dec. 4th.
   Smith says "There are at least three places you could do it – Mandalay Bay, MGM, and the Bellagio.
   "Mandalay Bay and MGM Grand each has a place where you could sit 16,000….so maybe we can invite 10,000 fans to the party."
  Smith said he envisioned a major Vegas show production company helping put on the awards event.
  "I think we're all going to be overwhelmed by it," Smith said. "In fact I was thinking about getting somebody guards for this weekend...because I was afraid when these drivers and car owners learned we were going to Vegas for this thing that they would be mobbing me."
   Smith said what he would really like is for NASCAR to not only move the December banquet to Vegas but to also move the season finale event to Vegas, two weeks earlier: "That would be fantastic.
   "Now we've got to get NASCAR thinking about that. And I'll bring it up with Brian (France) the next time I see him."
   Kansas Speedway, which is owned by the France family, is now reviving plans to include a new casino in that area, and when that casino project was first raised, Lesa France Kennedy, who runs the family's International Speedway Corp., all-but promised Kansas City itself a second Cup tour date if politicians would okay the casino. However there has been no indication of how NASCAR might find such a second Cup date for that track. And what Smith might do if the Frances were to simply create a new Cup date, rather than move an existing date from a current track, well, that might create some major legal issues for courts to decide. And the drivers?
    "Obviously New York is very convenient, from a logistical standpoint," Jeff Burton says.
   "But our banquet needs some life injected into it.  It needs fan involvement; it needs a fresh look with new ideas.
    "The country music awards, and those kinds of things where the fans are involved and are right there, that’s what we need. 
    "We need something new and exciting.
    "What we do now is a really good thing: it's great to entertain sponsors,it's great to spend a night reflecting on the year....and in some cases the history of our sport.
    "But I just think it needs more energy. 
   "It needs something that's built around fun -- around excitement that embraces the fans more. 
    "Vegas may give us a better opportunity to do that. 
    "I don’t care where it is, the only thing I care about is finding a way that it's more exciting.
    "And I think being in Vegas might give us a venue that enables us to do that.
    "I'm a proponent of it if it makes it more fun, more exciting and more energetic."
   For Kyle Busch, a Vegas native, winning this year's title and then getting to celebrate in his hometown "would be pretty cool," he says.
    "New York is a good place for it; we always like going to New York. Girlfriends love going there for the shopping and getting Christmas stuff out of the way. 
     "Vegas will be a little bit different in that respect. But at least the weather might be a little warmer. 
     "And if we're going to be there a whole week, there might be some time we can go out to the sand dunes."


Kyle Busch says this would be a great season to win the NASCAR championship, with the awards banquet moving to his hometown (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


That figures. BSmith does so

That figures. BSmith does so much to North Carolina - harm that is - that it figures he would be right in there helping the city that is trying to take the Furniture Market from High Point. Hopefully anyone with an interest in the furniture industry or the Piedmont Triad will avoid Charlotte Motor Speedway.

This makes a little more

This makes a little more sense than having it in New York City, but not much. What "awards" given out at this event have their winners yet unknown? Exactly. An awards banquet for "awards" that have already been determined and known about doesn't make a whole lot of sense to begin with.

Hmmm...very good

Hmmm...very good point....Bill France Jr. used to use the awards week as a launching point for some big news angle, to create some news, and then let the drivers there in NYC talk about it....But at least Vegas ought to be able to come up with a stage show that is worth going to...rather than simply listening to a bunch of boring speakers.....how would you do the banquet thing? any ideas?

No ideas here, Mike, other

No ideas here, Mike, other than to get rid of it. It's kind of like the Pro Bowl as far as an event: not necessary. The only thing moving it to Vegas does is give some race fans a reason to go gamble. I've never watched this event since they started carrying it on TV, and I don't know why anyone else does/would. We've already heard the winners thank their sponsors, their crew, and "the boys back at the shop" enough during the season. No reason to watch them say the same repetitive things again.

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