'Wolfies' reward dashers, dancers


With the new year fast approaching, it's time to hand out a few awards. We'll call them the "Wolfies."

BURNING BUSH AWARD

Shrubs at the home of Speedway Motorsports Inc. founder and chairman Bruton Smith were set ablaze by Christmas lights a few weeks ago. No damage except to greenery.

Perhaps it was a sign -- a message from above -- that greed shall reap the wrath of the heavens.

Smith's year started with his joyous introduction of the fabulous, fan-friendly Neon Garage infield section of Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Topping that for the 80-year-old billionaire was his acquisition of New Hampshire Motor Speedway, a deal that will be finalized within the first quarter of 2008.

Might he move one of New Hampshire's two NASCAR Cup races to Las Vegas for the 2009 season?

It seemed likely until that possibility became hinged to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority's willingness to pay several million for it to happen.

Call it the Concord Bluff.

The city of Concord, N.C., where SMI's Lowe's Motor Speedway is located, changed its zoning to prevent Smith from building a major league dragstrip at the complex several months ago.

Smith was smitten; you don't do something like that to the second-most powerful man in NASCAR. He said he would leave Concord over the snub.

Well, his bluff worked, and Concord flip-flopped to give its blessing to the new 'strip, which should be completed midway through next year. The city also agreed to about $80 million in incentives -- from tax breaks and promised improvements outside the facility.

That seems to have inspired Smith to use a version of the Concord Bluff on Las Vegas.

Members of Wolfie's Big Ear Posse claim Smith wanted $10 million from the LVCVA for a second annual Cup date. That figure has dropped to about $6 million.

Well, Mr. Smith, Las Vegas isn't Concord, N.C.

This year's Las Vegas Cup race provided nearly $200 million in economic impact on Southern Nevada, according to LVCVA research.

But, again, this ain't Concord, where hotels and motels rarely are full except when NASCAR visits.

Were members of NASCAR nation not to dump all that money into Las Vegas coffers, it's likely someone else would. The hotel room occupancy rate in Las Vegas wouldn't suffer much without NASCAR.

SMI nets about $40 million with each three-day, NASCAR weekend in Vegas. The emphasis is on "net." No one in Las Vegas gets rich off the NASCAR visit except SMI.

Smith probably wasn't overjoyed when LVCVA did not fall to bended knees at his initial request for ransom to put a second Cup race at the speedway.

He was in a more foul mood when Clark County Commissioners handed him a lump of coal Wednesday instead of its blessing for a condominium complex at the speedway.

It was March 2006, the Friday of Cup weekend, when Smith unveiled plans for Trophy Towers, a 10-story structure to be built between the speedway's first and second turns. His bash to announce the project alone must have cost $100,000.

Smith spent that money, had renderings drawn and proceeded with the project, all without getting a zoning exemption from the county that governs the land on which the speedway sits.

Clark County commissioners yielded to concerns of Nellis Air Force Base brass that permanent housing that close to Nellis could set a dangerous precedent.

What if a bomb falls from one of its jets? That's reassuring.

My money was on Smith's clout with the Air Force and his political ties. Smith and I lost when the county said no to Trophy Towers.

Although the Burning Bush award tops the Wolfies list, there were other honorees:

BEST MOVE AWARD

Helio Castroneves wins for winning "Dancing with the Stars." He brought the Indy Racing League credibility, if not for its racing then for one driver's ability to spend a couple of months dancing with a beautiful girl.

Finishing in a tie for second are Dario Franchitti and Sam Hornish Jr., each of whom performed the "Open Wheel Two-Step" as they line-danced their ways from IndyCars to NASCAR.

DR. PHIL AWARD

Teresa Earnhardt now has lost two Dale Earnhardts. The death of her husband certainly wasn't what she wanted, but letting his son leave Dale Earnhardt Inc. was what she wanted.

Television know-it-all Dr. Phil McGraw needs to sit down with Teresa Earnhardt and ask: "What were you thinking?"

LANCE BURTON AWARD

The magical disappearance of the Vegas Grand Prix. It was here in April and gone in October.

Poof.

CHEATERS, CHEATERS AWARD

Michael Waltrip Racing and Hendrick Motorsports were deadlocked, but the Wolfie -- on a tiebreaker -- goes to Hendrick teams for being able to win while breaking rules.

Waltrip didn't win when he cheated.

MAGIC POTION NO. 55 AWARD

The honor goes to the fluid or gunk that was put in Waltrip's car that got him booted from the Daytona 500.

Bet that product would be a hot seller at NAPA stores.

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

 

Rules for posting comments

Comments posted below are from readers. In no way do they represent the view of Stephens Media LLC or this newspaper. This is a public forum. Read our guidelines for posting. If you believe that a commenter has not followed these guidelines, please click the FLAG icon next to the comment.