At least one NASCAR fan remains livid at Las Vegas Motor Speedway officials after he and thousands of other race fans who attended Sunday’s Kobalt 400 race were not allowed to leave a locked parking lot until an hour after the race was over.
Medical researcher David Morehouse of Las Vegas said speedway parking attendants, backed up by Las Vegas police and Nevada Highway Patrol troopers, told him fans in the free parking lots could leave only after paid lots emptied. The speedway has more than 10,000 free parking spaces. Crowds usually exceed 100,000 people for a NASCAR Sprint Cup race.
Morehouse said he tried to leave with 40 laps left in the race, which is part of NASCAR’s top Sprint Cup series circuit, but instead both missed the end of the race and couldn’t leave to beat the traffic. He said he waited about two hours to get away.
“This is an illegal act! You cannot detain patrons against their will, without their consent, when there is no safety issue, no lives are at stake — when the only reason is LVMS wants to give priority exit status to paid parking patrons,” Morehouse wrote in a Monday email to speedway President Chris Powell and local public officials. “The act is unconscionable, and should be punishable by fine or class action lawsuit.”
Morehouse recalled in his letter that an angry veteran stood in front of the locked gate and said, “I’ve just served my country for 18 months in Afghanistan, only to come back here and have you lock me in a parking lot like an animal. When did Nevada become a police state?”
Morehouse said an elderly couple informed a parking attendant they needed to leave for a medical appointment, but were told, “Sure, nice try buddy.”
He said frustration boiled over as four fans lifted the right side of the gate off the hinges, and started to open it. In response, Morehouse said, police closed the gap in the gate and threatened fans with immediate arrest. Off-duty police officers commonly work in uniform at sporting events, paid by the event organizer or the venue.
Chris Powell, Las Vegas Motor Speedway president, acknowledged it was a mistake to lock the gate and apologized.
“I regret that it happened,” Powell said.
Powell explained that weeks ago the speedway planned to lock the general parking gate so that fans paying $59 for weekend parking could leave first. But he said he reversed course in response to concerns raised by some staff members.
He said his change of mind was not effectively communicated to parking attendants.
“I failed to communicate to proper personnel,” Powell said Wednesday. “We had a breakdown in communication and it will not happen again.”
Powell also called Morehouse Wednesday to explain the communications mix-up.
“I felt the explanation was heartfelt and I appreciated his call and apology,” Morehouse said.
But Morehouse said Powell needs to go further and to apologize through as many media outlets as possible to reach thousands of fans who were wrongly detained.
“I don’t disbelieve him, but he needs to apologize to the thousands who were wronged by this. I just happened to be the schmuck who wrote the letter,” Morehouse said.
“I don’t want to be a thorn in his paws,” Morehouse said. “But he needs to step up to the (media) outlets and say, ‘Hey, I’m the president of the track, this happened, it was wrong and I swear it won’t happen again.’”
“I’m sure Las Vegans and visitors will think really highly of him if he confesses and apologizes.”
Contact reporter Alan Snel at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-5273. Follow @BicycleManSnel on Twitter.