On the quiet days preceding this weekend's NASCAR races at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the sprawling compound was as still as the desert it supplanted. With no revving engines, squealing tires or roaring crowds, the only sounds came from the low-flying jets of nearby Nellis Air Force Base. With no engine oil or burning rubber, the only scent was that of frying bacon.
Which, OK, might seem a little weird if you didn't know that the track concessions were gearing up for a mammoth undertaking: Over the course of four days this weekend (Thursday through Sunday), they'll be serving food to most of the 325,000 people who are expected to turn the Speedway from an island of serenity into a beehive of activity. Since coolers and outside food and beverages aren't permitted to be brought into the track, just about anyone who hasn't parked his or her recreational vehicle in the infield will be filling their own tanks at the various food-service outlets. On the menu? A range that extends from the gourmet-level fare to be served in the luxury suites and clubs to the nachos-and-turkey-leg offerings of the track's numerous concession stands. Somewhere in the middle is the Neon Garage, a one-year-old complex with brand-new food-service outlets.
The Neon Garage shares the track's vast infield with an RV parking area. Accessible to fans for $129 for Friday or Saturday, $149 for Sunday (or less if they had the foresight to take advantage of advance-sale packages), it provides an air of exclusivity, live entertainment at all times except during races (including the Blue Man Group, an array of celebrity impersonators and even some of Madame Tussaud's racers, for photo ops) a chance for a bird's-eye view of the winners' circle and, more importantly, the ability to peek through broad windows at the drivers and crews at work in their garages at any time during garage hours.
"The stars are the garages," said Jeff Motley, the Speedway's senior director of public relations. "You get to see these teams do everything that they do."
The Neon Garage also is home to a new complex with food outlets in walk-up buildings, replacing last year's food stands. The complex is colorful, it's neatly arranged, it has dozens of picnic tables arranged beneath a shade screen and -- best of all -- it will serve made-to-order foods.
"No other track in the country has something like this in the infield," said Jay Satenspiel, director of operations for track food-and-beverage vendor Levy Restaurants.
"It's quite a unique array of concession products," Motley said.
And, Satenspiel said, they're foods that won't be served anywhere else at the racetrack. They include a short-rib skewer with onions and tomatoes and chimichurri and cilantro sauces. A stacked brisket burger with smoked shredded brisket, Cheddar cheese and barbecue sauce. Shaken salads, including a tossed BLT salad and a Greek salad. Flatbread pizzas with barbecued chicken, pepperoni or four cheeses. A signature Las Vegas foot-long hot dog with chili, cheese, tomatoes and onions. Fresh-cut garlic-Parmesan fries. Fresh-cut fried onion rings. A vegetable cole slaw.
You know those roller machines that keep hot dogs spinning around for hours? Those stadium-staple stale nacho chips with Day-Glo "cheez" sauce? You won't find those in the Neon Garage. You will see a couple of big stainless-steel outdoor grills, as well as numerous indoor preparation areas that are visible to the public.
Then again, you won't even see roller-dogs and Day-Glo cheez at the tracks' regular concession stands. The track-favorite nachos, for example, are topped with shredded beef, beans, salsa, sour cream and guacamole in addition to cheese. And the new Tailpipe Taquitos are made with chicken and jack cheese and served with salsa and an avocado ranch dip. There's even, for the littlest gearheads, a crustless peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich with carrot sticks and grapes.
Things will be tonier, of course, in the luxury suites and clubs, with offerings such as grilled peppercorn tenderloin of beef.
It'll be lots of food for lots of fans. It's expected that nearly 18,000 orders of nachos will be served, and nearly 9,000 burgers.
Let's not forget the beverages. Beer will be available at numerous spots, cocktails in some (including the full-service Neon Oasis in the Neon Garage), plus soft drinks, bottled water -- even hot chocolate, if the weather should prove to be brisk.
All in all, one thing's for sure: It'll smell a whole lot better than engine oil and burning rubber.
Contact reporter Heidi Knapp Rinella at email@example.com or (702) 383-0474.