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Bullring ready for ‘carnival’

The days are gone when all that small racetracks needed to the pack the grandstands was close, entertaining racing.

Local tracks now compete with televised professional races — in addition to an ever-increasing field of entertainment options — for the discretionary dollar.

Successful grass-roots racing today depends on creative events and marketing. Tonight’s annual Night of Fire on the three-eighths-mile Bullring oval at Las Vegas Motor Speedway is an example of such strategy.

The premier Super Late Models division in the NASCAR All-American Series will run a special 76-lap feature race, but it takes more than that to attract about 7,000 spectators.

It will be a night of racing, but it also will be showtime.

Fireworks on the eve of Independence Day will cap the night.

But the Bullring also is bringing in a jet dragster to burn down an old hearse, and the track will feature a motorcycle thrill show as well as a race-car drifting exhibition to promote the speedway’s July 11 and 12 event.

“Every good racetrack around the country has their home run night each year when they pull out all the stops,” said Chris Blair, director of short track operations at the speedway. “We look at this as our night to do things out of the ordinary.”

Blair said the Night of Fire has become the Bullring’s best-attended event of the year.

“This event is more of a carnival or three-ring circus,” he said. To reinforce the point, Blair will be in a charity dunk tank, which he called his “clown act” because he can’t swim.

The 1,500 or so loyal fans who have shown up regularly for Saturday night races will enjoy the added frills and thrills — but their loyalty remains to the racing.

Scott Gafforini, the 2006 Super Late Models champion, doesn’t mind the sideshows if it puts more spectators in the seats.

“I really like the fireworks show,” said Gafforini, a 41-year-old who has won twice this season and leads Jeff Connors in his division by 43 points.

“But we’ve got a big show, too,” he said of the combined feature race for Super Late Models and Late Models.

“The fireworks and other stuff is why the track has been running TV commercials, and that’s good for the stock-car program. Big crowds are good for our sponsors. Without sponsors, most of us wouldn’t be racing.”

Tonight’s racing, which will begin at 7, will include Modifieds, Legends cars, USAC Focus Midgets, Bandoleros and Bombers. Preliminary races and qualifying will begin at 5:30.

The cost for adults is $15, senior citizens and military with ID $12, children ages 6 to 12 $9 and children younger than 6 free.

Contact reporter Jeff Wolf at jwolf@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0247.

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