Strip resorts eager partners with IndyCar Series

After an 11-year hiatus, the IndyCar Series race returns to Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sunday, though it won't generate nearly the economic impact of the NASCAR race that comes to Las Vegas in the spring.

Still, MGM Resorts figures it's worth partnering with the racing organization as its host hotel.

"Partnerships to us are everything, and the market is such that we can deliver on the experience to the fans," MGM vice president Scott Voeller said in a statement. "If you really think about all the different championships, this is where it all happens. This is where everyone wants to be. So for us, it's incredibly valuable to be able to partner with the Izod IndyCar Series."

The Kobalt Tools NASCAR race in March generated a nongaming economic impact of $135.6 million, based on an estimated 120,000 out-of-town visitors, said Scott Russell, senior research analyst for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

The tourism agency has not estimated the impact of the IndyCar race because it hasn't been here since 2000, Russell said. "It's not going to be apples-to-apples. It's hard to draw any direct lines to 2000."

Izod IndyCar Series Chief Executive Officer Randy Bernard said it's not fair to compare this race with past races that were sanctioned by the Indy Racing League, which was feuding with the Champ Car Series over top drivers. Champ agreed to cease operations in 2008, giving the surviving IRL the opportunity to rebuild open-wheel's lost prestige.

"There's still a lot of fans just starting to come back to our series because of the nasty divorce," Bernard said of a past split between the IRL and Champ series. "I think we took 3,000 rooms on the Strip between the drivers, the team owners and the IndyCar nation, our fan club."

Las Vegas Motor Speedway general manager Chris Powell said race sanction agreements are business agreements, and the speedway couldn't put the right deal together after the IRL race.

"We had the Champ cars in the interim, but we had a period there where we just couldn't reach an agreement," he said.

Unlike NASCAR, Indy cars are open-wheel cockpits with no fenders. They're lighter with a lot more downforce, which allows them to go about 50 mph faster than a stock car.

Bernard said he's hoping for 70,000 in attendance for Sunday's race, but more than 50,000 would still be considered a big success. Some 75,000 tickets to the championship race in Las Vegas were given to fans who bought tickets to other IndyCar races throughout the year.

All but five of the 121 corporate suites at Las Vegas Motor Speedway have been rented for the event, a strong sign of interest in the race, he said.

Bernard said the IZOD IndyCar Series saw the same value in coming to Las Vegas for its championship as the Professional Bull Riders did. The Las Vegas Motor Speedway is a "world-class facility in a world-class city," he said.

"The most important thing we can do for our fans is give them a great experience and a great value, and that's what you get in Las Vegas," the race executive said.

MGM is sponsoring IndyCar Fan Village at Mandalay Bay with interactive games and simulators, cars on display, and photograph and autograph sessions with drivers. It's free to the public.

A fan appreciation event is scheduled Saturday at 10 a.m. at Mandalay Bay. Fans can chat online with IndyCar drivers Dan Wheldon, Dario Franchitti and Will Power. Good Charlotte is in concert at 2:30 p.m., and a race celebration party takes place at 8 p.m. at The Mirage.

MGM is offering special room rates with complimentary general admission race tickets. Room rates were advertised from $109 at Circus Circus to $400 at MGM Grand. MGM is also a partner in the Monster Energy Cup motocross race Saturday at Sam Boyd Stadium.

The Firestone Indy Lights open Sunday's race day at 9:45 a.m., followed by the Izod IndyCar World Championship at 12:45 p.m. Tickets to races start at $10.

Contact reporter Hubble Smith at or 702-383-0491.