For the third year in a row, a major change will greet visitors to Las Vegas Motor Speedway when they begin arriving Friday for the 12th annual NASCAR Sprint Cup weekend.
Two years ago it was a radically rebuilt 1.5-mile tri-oval that featured higher banking and tighter turns. The Neon Garage also opened in the infield. Last year a new model Sprint Cup car raced at Las Vegas for the first time.
But this year’s change is the coolest of all. It’s the new name of the Sprint Cup race: the Shelby 427.
Not only does the name honor celebrated car builder Carroll Shelby, but the race has been extend by 27 miles (18 laps) to 427 miles to salute the size of the big-block Ford engine Shelby began stuffing into Cobra sports cars and Mustangs more than two decades ago.
It is the classiest name for any race — anywhere.
The connection to Sunday’s race has not been lost on Kyle Busch, who was born 20 years after Shelby’s first Cobra 427 hit the road.
"It’s a great name for the race," said Busch, who grew up in Las Vegas before moving to Concord, N.C., about six years ago to pursue his driving career.
"I’ve always wanted to meet Carroll Shelby. As much as I’ve always wanted to win a big race in my hometown, it would just be that much sweeter to have the Shelby name on the trophy."
The sponsorship through Shelby Automobiles, located in the industrial park adjacent to the speedway, comes at a time when sponsorships are drying up because of the poor economy.
This year marks the first time since 2001 the Las Vegas Cup race sponsorship has not been tied to the United Auto Workers and Dodge or DaimlerChrysler. Las Vegas Events stepped up to sponsor the Cup races in 1998 and 1999, then handed off to Carsdirect.com before Dodge took over.
Give credit to Boyd Gaming for putting the speedway on the map in 1997 when it used its Sam’s Town brand to sponsor the first Nationwide — then Busch — Series race at the track. The name hasn’t changed since.
Speedway Motorsports, the publicly held corporation that bought the complex in late 1998, hasn’t been shy about pouring millions of dollars into LVMS.
Some plans, like replacing the center grandstand section and sky boxes, have been shelved. The Trophy Towers condominium project that would have overlooked the first and second turns of the oval were detonated by Nellis Air Force Base officials.
Even if future renovations and additions are on hold, the status quo should be fine for a while, considering that Cup tracks in Fort Worth, Texas, Phoenix and elsewhere are tearing out seats to convert the areas to other amenities.
These are tough financial times, in case you’ve been living under a slimy rock with some Wall Street and banking executives.
Many tracks are offering discounted tickets for this year’s Cup races, but Las Vegas hasn’t. Don’t be surprised if ticket prices are re-evaluated after this weekend.
It’s not likely Sunday’s race will sell out, but a crowd of close to 140,000 is expected and about 100,000 will be there for Saturday’s Nationwide race.
LVMS president Chris Powell has worked with exclusive-rights concessionaire Levy Restaurants to drop the prices of water, soft drinks and even beer by $1. Each day until 10 a.m., a concession stand on the midway will sell a breakfast sandwich with coffee for $2. Heck, it’s been hard to find a cup of coffee for $2 at a racetrack.
It won’t make anyone rich, but it’s a nice gesture. And these day, every dollar helps.
Jeff Wolf covers motor sports for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He can be reached at 383-0247 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit Wolf’s motor sports blog at lvrj.com/blogs/heavypedal/ throughout the week.