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EDITORIAL: Speedway leaves fans stuck in park

When there’s a major crash in a NASCAR race, or when the weather turns ugly, officials wave the red flag, which signals a temporary halt to racing. Drivers head to the pits and park their cars. Racing doesn’t resume until conditions are safe enough for driving at 180 mph.

But dropping a red flag on patrons trying to get out of the parking lot, including some who left well before the race ended in order to beat traffic? That a slap to fans who’ve already committed most of a day — and a whole lot of money — to attend the event.

But that’s exactly what Las Vegas Motor Speedway officials did this past week. As reported Wednesday by the Review-Journal’s Alan Snel, thousands of fans who parked in one of the free lots for Sunday’s Sprint Cup race found themselves literally locked in until an hour after the race. Las Vegan David Morehouse said speedway parking attendants, backed up by Las Vegas police and Nevada Highway Patrol troopers, told him fans in the free lots could leave only after paid lots had emptied. The speedway has more than 10,000 free spaces, and the Sprint Cup race typically draws more than 100,000 fans.

Mr. Morehouse actually left with 40 laps remaining in the race, willingly missing the thrilling finish in order to beat the traffic. Except he didn’t beat the traffic. He and many others stewed in parking detention, under what he said was the threat of arrest if they tried to get out. “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,” Mr. Morehouse said.

Speedway President Chris Powell explained to Mr. Snel that weeks ago, the speedway explored a plan to lock the general parking gate so those who paid $59 for weekend parking could leave first. But the plan was shelved after staff members raised concerns — perhaps about fans raising hell for being herded like cattle until parking lot ranchers allowed them to go. But somehow, word of the change didn’t get around. “I failed to communicate to proper personnel,” Mr. Powell said, which seems extremely hard to believe for the highest-profile event the speedway holds. To his credit, Mr. Powell apologized.

Nothing like this can happen again. When visitors have an experience as bad as this, they don’t come back. Sunday’s debacle should’ve gotten speedway officials the black flag that reckless racers sometimes receive, followed by the requisite trip to the NASCAR hauler for a good chewing out.

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