Southern Nevada race fans should know about Robert Deiro. Without him, there might not be a Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Those around for the groundbreaking in 1995 credit Richie Clyne with initial financial backing from the late Ralph Engelstad for creating the speedway, which opened with an IndyCar race on Sept. 15, 1996.
Bruton Smith and Speedway Motorsports Inc. then took the facility to a higher level with major improvements made since buying it in late 1998.
Clyne was cited for his “vision” to build the $200 million speedway complex when he was inducted into the Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Fame four years ago.
That “vision” actually was Deiro’s. Clyne’s passion was and remains antique and classic cars, not racing.
“(Deiro) was the one who got me interested in the speedway,” Clyne said in a telephone interview this week.
Deiro — pronounced DAY-row — is the unsung hero whose decades of experience in racing and business led Clyne to the well, and then Engelstad primed the pump with the funding.
Deiro, 71, had a passion for racing that dates to the late 1950s. He was an amateur sports-car racer for about 30 years.
His drive and background provided the cornerstone for the speedway, which has become host to Nevada’s biggest sports events.
Deiro called me a few months ago to share his history. I was skeptical, but became a believer after he shared records and newspaper articles that back his claim.
Why didn’t Deiro speak out before?
“I’ve been getting treatments for Stage IV prostate cancer, and I just wanted to get the record straight,” he told me in our first conversation.
The longtime Las Vegas resident deserves it, too.
The only benefit he’s received — other than seeing the seed he planted grow into one of the country’s major motor sports facilities — was being allowed to test his sports cars at the speedway at no charge. He also said he was supposed to get 10 percent of gross profits, but that hasn’t happened.
“It’s not the only deal I made without a contract that I could kick myself for,” said the founder of Robert Deiro & Associates, an auction and liquidation company now run by his son.
In the mid-1980s, Deiro began seeing firsthand how the Las Vegas Speedrome was falling into disrepair under Alex Rodriguez Jr., who leased it from the City of Las Vegas long before the property became an unincorporated part of Clark County.
Deiro began looking for land to build a racing facility.
After a few years of encountering countless bureaucratic roadblocks, he began to focus on acquiring the Speedrome, which was located on what now is LVMS property. He alerted the city to the poor condition of its dragstrip, oval track and road course, and got its attention when he learned it was not carrying adequate liability insurance.
The city decided to put the facility up for sale in early 1989. Deiro said he had financial backing from casino pioneer Jackie Gaughan to buy it, but Gaughan pulled out within a few days of the deadline over liability concerns.
Three days before the deadline to submit a purchase proposal to the city, Deiro ran into Clyne at an auction and asked if he was interested in becoming involved. Clyne liked the idea and pitched it to Engelstad, who agreed to fund it for $1.07 million.
Deiro remained with Clyne and his group as a consultant for what became Las Vegas Raceway Park. Today’s Bullring short track is located on the same spot as the Speedrome’s oval.
When you think of Las Vegas Motor Speedway, think of Robert Deiro.
Speedway president Chris Powell had not heard of Deiro until I shared his story.
The speedway should name its road course in honor of Deiro because had he never raced on the one at the Speedrome there might not be a Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
To Deiro, that would have greater, lasting value than the percentage of the gross he said he was promised.
For him, it’s about adding to his legacy for his children and grandchildren.
(For more about Deiro, go to Wolf’s motor sports blog at lvrj.com/blogs/heavypedal.)
Jeff Wolf’s motor sports column is published Friday. He can be reached at 383-0247 or email@example.com.