Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Off-road race needs to stay put, not desert speedway

Jeff Wolff

Copyright © Las Vegas Review-Journal

If you believe God created Earth in six days, then he made the deserts five minutes before quitting time. He must have been in a hurry to clock out for that noted day of rest.
Truth is, the only worthwhile sand is on beaches, where cool waves lap ashore.
Sorry, I just don't like varying shades of beige, heat and prickly things.
Desert racing is the only good byproduct of barren terrain.

I was excited when the SCORE Las Vegas Terrible's Cup was created three years ago for the dirt track at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. It showcases the sport like no other venue -- especially for urbanites such as me.
My prayers were answered: a desert race with paved parking, permanent restrooms and a circuit where nearly all the action could be seen.
Sweaty, dusty excitement with the amenities of a modern racing stadium and races scheduled at night to avoid the heat.
Now that's heaven.

Apparently I'm not the only one enthralled by the marriage of a comfortable facility and desert racing.
The crowd for tonight's first of two rounds of Terrible's Cup III at the speedway could surpass the event's previous editions, which were entertaining and well attended.
Many were surprised in 2005 when an estimated 13,000 defied the heat and showed up for the two-night event. Even more attended last year with about 15,000 over two nights.
There's added interest this year: For the first time, racers will vie for coveted SCORE championship points on the 1.5-mile circuit, about 90 percent of which is visible from the grandstands. What little fans can't see is shown on a jumbo television screen in the infield.
The points incentive has nearly doubled the field of SCORE Trophy-Trucks to 21 from the number that competed a year ago. Total entries have risen to 97 from around 60.
Sal Fish, desert racing's godfather, wanted to have a stadium race at the speedway seven years ago and sought the help of desert racing's premier supporter, Jerry Herbst.

They couldn't come to an equitable deal with the speedway. Four years later, Las Vegas Events, which owns the event, stepped in with major sponsorship and promotional support from Herbst. The Herbsts, who field two of the most successful teams ever in the desert, invest more in the sport than any other group.
However, the speedway event could be in jeopardy of eventually moving to Primm.
Herbst Gaming's purchase of the three properties in Primm from MGM Mirage for $400 million was finalized in April. The complex is along Interstate 15 about 40 miles southwest of Las Vegas.

Ed Herbst, at 46 the oldest of three racing brothers, said his company plans to create a desert-racing stadium behind Buffalo Bill's in Primm, which will host the 12th annual Las Vegas Primm 300 on Sept. 8.
He said the facility -- or "desert racing mecca" -- will have various off-road events, along with motorcycle racing and sand drags.

The venue, which will have a 1- or 1.5-mile course, will hold a Championship Off-Road Racing event in November with between 10,000 and 15,000 temporary seats. Herbst said permanent grandstands with fan amenities might be built.
CORR, which runs on 1-mile circuits, and this weekend's speedway event in a few years could become the only way desert racers can compete in Southern Nevada.

A proposed regional airport will continue to swallow much of the land to be used for the longtime SCORE Primm race. For each of the past few years, the course for the season-opening SCORE Laughlin Desert Challenge has gotten shorter because of land sales and planned developments in the city.
Fortunately, the Baja 500 and Baja 1000 in Mexico seem safe, as does the Las Vegas-to-Reno race in the Best in the Desert Series.
Herbst said he believes the success of the speedway event could outgrow the 8,000-seat permanent grandstand.
LVE president Pat Christensen said he's ready to roll in temporary grandstands when that happens.

What Terrible's Cup promoters call "a taste of Baja" should remain at the speedway's dirt track until a comparable facility is built in Primm.
The Herbsts always have put the sport first, and there's no reason to believe they won't when it comes to keeping the Cup at the speedway.
Every racing series needs a family like the Herbsts. Desert racers are glad to have them.

Jeff Wolf's motor sports column is published Friday, in the Las Vegas Review-Journal