EDITORIAL: NASCAR Weekend a driving force for the economy

The term “March Madness” is so closely associated with college basketball that the NCAA trademarked it. Las Vegas has its own version of March Madness, and while college basketball is a big part of it — the West Coast Conference tournament is already underway at Orleans Arena — there’s no denying that NASCAR weekend is what gets this month firing on all cylinders in terms of economic impact.

As reported by the Review-Journal’s Alan Snel, as many as 125,000 people are expected in Las Vegas for a motor sports buffet that’s already being served at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The World of Outlaws sprint car series provided an appetizer with events on Wednesday and Thursday. The second-tier NASCAR Nationwide Series held practices Friday, with qualifying for the Boyd Gaming 300 at 9:35 a.m. today and the race set for 1:15 p.m. And the Sprint Cup Series held practice and qualifying Friday for the main course, the Kobalt 400, with the green flag dropping at noon Sunday.

Mr. Snel noted that the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority expects NASCAR weekend to generate $83 million in nongaming spending — almost as much as the 10-day National Finals Rodeo held here every December. “It’s that time of the year when weather gets really nice and people are getting ready to get out of the snow, coupled with events that bring large numbers of people, such as NASCAR,” said Ryan Growney, general manager of the South Point. Mr. Growney’s property, like many others, is sold out for NASCAR weekend, and the hotel also has a stake in race weekend as a sponsor of the No. 62 Nationwide Series car driven by Brendan Gaughan, son of South Point owner Michael Gaughan.

But make no mistake, the Sprint Cup race is what has brought 100,000-plus fans here annually since the series made its debut at the speedway in 1998. The 17th running should bring out a big crowd, largely because of what happened across the country two weeks ago at the season-opening Daytona 500. Dale Earnhardt Jr., the Sprint Cup’s most popular driver, won the race, then took second last week at Phoenix. Having his name atop the points standings will surely attract fans. Las Vegans will again have local favorites Kurt and Kyle Busch to cheer for, along with star drivers Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Danica Patrick and more.

NASCAR weekend is one of the gems of the valley’s special events calendar. Thanks to NASCAR, speedway officials and all the racing fans who make it happen.