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Keeping It Off the Wall
by Ed Donath

Strip Show

Athens, NY—A street race in the glamorous, world renowned Strip area of Las Vegas might make good sense for a company whose current prospectus lists three-day urban festivals of speed as its major profit center. Of course, the "street" would probably end up being the parking lot of a major casino hotel but, as they say out in the wild west, that’s a whole ‘nother story.

Not only does this gamblers/show-goers paradise promote itself as well or better than any other city in the world—which is a very good thing for an under-marketed comeback racing series to glom onto—but its tourist friendliness and ample hotel room count help make it a far more exciting racing destination than some plain old berg like San Jose or Edmonton.

Las Vegas even boasts an open-wheel racing history that once ranked right up there with Monte Carlo, Long Beach, and Indianapolis; a status that could easily be renewed with a well thought-out annual Champ Car event.

So a Vegas street deal sure sounds like the perfect replacement for the currently underplayed, under-attended oval race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, right?

Well, I wouldn’t necessarily jump to that conclusion. For while urban events have been hailed as the money-making, fan base-growing forte of the Champ Car World Series, it’s pretty clear from Kevin Kalkhoven’s recent statements of business philosophy that he wouldn’t necessarily lump "destination races" in with the family-oriented events to which locals have been flocking in the North American cities that comprise the mainstay of our racing schedule.

"The fan base is developing very rapidly," says the Champ Car World Series co-owner. "I think it's obvious that if we bring racing close to urban centers, whether it's a permanent track like Montreal or Portland or a street course, if you turn it into a three-day festival the fans and the families will come. You don't have to stand out in some mud-ridden field to watch cars come by."

In the neo-NFL business model espoused, if not created by CART’s ultimate CEO Chris Pook, and which continues to be the blueprint from which the current series owners build, "the hometown crowd"—including long-time fans, newbies, curiosity seekers, and sponsor guests—is the be-all and end-all. While the local fans of an NFL football franchise might take a rare road trip when their homeys are lucky enough to make it to the Super Bowl, Champ Car currently has no event that could get its fans on airplanes in any significant numbers.

Additionally, a couple of other factors weigh against the likelihood of OWRS continuing Champ Car racing in Las Vegas once the LVMS deal expires: Motorsports fans who reside in and around Las Vegas have demonstrated their indifference to open-wheel racing and, while Las Vegas enjoys an endless stream of tourists, most are preoccupied with other activities and don’t really need to stand out in the desert heat to watch cars come by.

Yet and still, Las Vegas would make one heck of a Champ Car destination race for fans and sponsors alike and, if covered properly, would make for engaging TV coverage, as well.

A Strip street race could be effective if it were promoted as an alternative to the Indy 500. To make it an ultra special event worth traveling to, a giant purse and/or unique tournament format could be utilized. You may recall that both of these concepts were suggested in the Hawaii Super Prix proposal that fizzled for lack of—what else?—imagination, support, and funding several years ago.

Hopefully, things have really changed.

Road Rage! An op-ed feature by Ed Donath.

Copyright © 2005 by Ed Donath and Deep Throttle. All Rights Reserved.

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