Desert racing fans deserted


Southern Nevada lost a great motor sports event Monday when the SCORE Desert Racing series and Las Vegas Events jointly issued a statement canceling the July 18-19 stadium-style desert race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway's dirt track.
(For more on this story, see Tuesday's Review-Journal sports section at LVRJ.com/sports.)
If July wasn't boring enough for racing fans in sweltering Southern Nevada, now we don't even get to go watch desert racers beat and bang on what the event called a "1.5-mile chunk of Baja."
"It is very disappointing for SCORE to see this exciting event be canceled, but circumstances beyond our control significantly dictated the outcome," Sal Fish, president of SCORE, said in the press release.
I call that comment by Fish a 1.5-ton pile of crap.
I don't believe Fish wanted the special event on his schedule. It required a lot of extra work by his crew to build and tear down the circuit, and it interrupted his three-month hiatus between SCORE's Baja 500 and Primm 300, both of which are more traditional desert races.
He fired a near fatal shot at the Cup in late January when he decided not to make the SCORE Las Vegas Cup IV an event that would award season championship points. It was a needed carrot to attract drivers who prefer racing through wide-open deserts.
The first two editions of the Cup did not award points and less than 50 drivers entered. But because the Cup was part of the points-paying series last year entries jumped to 81.
The three previous Cups not only attracted nearly 8,000 spectators each night -- despite daytime highs of nearly 110 degrees -- they exposed the talents of desert racers to many who usually don't stand in the middle of nowhere to catch a glimpse or two as Trophy-Trucks and buggies fly by.
The event's status took a further hit in April when Herbst Gaming began trying to restructure a $1.1 billion debt. The Herbsts cited the bleak economy, higher gas prices and a smoking ban at convenience stores as reasons for cutting out their SCORE involvement.
Brothers Ed, Troy and Tim Herbst now satiate their desert racing appetite by competing in the Championship Off Road Racing stadium series. The CORR track built behind the Herbst's Buffalo Bill's resort is year-round and no temporary track could be built at the speedway to match it.
When the Herbsts bowed out of sponsoring the Cup, the company took away funding for amenities at the dirt track, including the giant-screen TV in the infield that highlighted racing action.
Most importantly, the event lost constant promotions in each of the Herbst casinos and convenience stores in Southern Nevada.
Fish -- who I've always respected -- blew this one. He lost a great opportunity to continue promoting desert racing. He reacted to complaints from his racers who didn't like racing on such a short circuit, but who's the boss?
Or, again, maybe Fish didn't want to interrupt his summer vacation.
For desert racing to grow it must accept that stadium-style racing is key to expanding the sport into new markets.
It's hard to blame the Herbst family for not tossing a hundred thousand dollars or so at an event in which they weren't going to race. And why should they support the Cup at the speedway when two CORR events will be held this year behind their Buffalo Bill's?
To the credit of Las Vegas Events president Pat Christenson, he continued to work on the Cup while not getting an equal commitment from Fish.
Christenson convinced his bosses at the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority to kick in more funding a month ago to help compensate for what was lost when the Herbsts pulled out.
Christenson wants to keep the door open for the Cup to return next year, but that's not going to happen.
If you want to see stadium desert racing, mark Oct. 25-26 on your calendar. That's when CORR returns to Primm.
The Las Vegas Cup isn't half empty, it's bone dry.