Champ Car exhaust should breathe life into downtown


It's no fun to admit being wrong.

I'd like to believe it shows character. More likely, it shows a tendency to jump to conclusions.

Lo and behold, something that seemed incomprehensible a few years ago comes to fruition today.

Downtown's dreary and somewhat depressing atmosphere will be awakened today with the first roar of the Vegas Grand Prix.

Yes, it will be loud.

Yes, it will disrupt the slumbering routine for downtown businesses.

And, yes, nearly 2 1/2 miles of magnificently repaved streets will have become a racing circuit.

Who could have envisioned it? Certainly, not me.

Limited City of Las Vegas funds have been invested into the weekend event. In addition to the advanced cost of street repaving, city officials have spent countless hours helping plan and coordinate converting the streets -- as smooth as those fronting the Strip's more celebrated palaces -- into a racetrack.

My guess is, when all the numbers have been totaled, Las Vegas taxpayers will have invested close to $1 million to help get the Grand Prix running.

That spending pales, however, to the $15 million event owners are believed to have invested.

The inaugural Grand Prix should be deemed a success when the first race car warms its tires at 8 this morning in the opening practice session. It's been a monumental task just to get to that point.

Event owners Dale Jensen and Bradley Yonover have not shortchanged the race weekend or the city. They've met or exceeded every promise made since negotiations to hold the event began more than a year ago.

With the direction of event president Jim Freudenberg and circuit manager Chris Kneifel, this course exceeds all safety requirements and has been one of the most impressive undertakings in American racing history.

Street races come with a price of inconveniencing some businesses and adversely affecting the routines of people who live or work in the area.

This race is the most unique of any ever held in a business area because downtown Las Vegas is busier on weekends than other cities hosting street races. The eventual payoff for downtown will more than compensate for the inconvenience.

The promoters forecast 150,000 spectators attending the three-day event. But, with only 30,000 seats and limited viewing from free access to public sidewalks, it's incomprehensible the figure will be reached.

Even if attendance approaches only 100,000, though, this event will do for downtown what no other event ever has: It will convey to a national and international television audience there is more to Las Vegas than the world-famous Strip.

Television cameras will capture the best images of the downtown casino district and showcase the Fremont Street Experience.

The high-speed swing along Grand Central Parkway, where Champ Cars should reach 185 mph, will feature a backdrop that includes buildings under construction and the ever-growing World Market Center. Undeveloped parcels might lure investors.

The city's contract with Jensen and Yonover is to conduct a street race for five years, which means it does not have to be with Champ Cars. It one day could be with the IndyCars of the Indy Racing League or, better, a merger of the two series.

If street races have benefited Long Beach, Calif., and the tiny European country of Monaco, then the concept should be good enough for Las Vegas.

Yes, it would be awesome if the race were to include the Strip. But that part of Las Vegas' tourism industry doesn't need the promotional Heimlich maneuver that downtown does.

It's sad but not unexpected how nearly all of the fat cats controlling the resort corridor have largely shunned supporting the Grand Prix. Too bad the new-generation casinos feel little, if any, loyalty to their downtown brethren who laid the groundwork for their existence.

Perhaps that will change next year if postrace television viewership reports show a substantial audience tuned in from around the country, as well as Mexico, Canada, China and more than 100 other nations.

One aspect of the Grand Prix that needs to change next year is moving it off Easter weekend. But that's only if it isn't shifted to the traditional early April dates for the annual NHRA drag racing weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

It's probably an unimaginable dream that key players in Southern Nevada's motor sports industry one day will work together to ensure major racing events are not scheduled on the same weekend.

Then again, just a few years back, it was an unimaginable dream that Main Street and Ogden and Bonneville avenues would serve as an open-wheel racetrack.

Jeff Wolf's motor sports column is published Friday. He can be reached at 383-0247 or jwolf@reviewjournal.com.

 

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