Let drivers make pit stops. You can make glitz stops.
"It’s a diamond-shaped structure with the inside being the size of an entire city block," says Chris Powell, general manager of Las Vegas Motor Speedway, of its fan centerpiece, the sprawling Neon Garage. "It gives race fans the kind of access they cannot get at any other speedway, and then you add the entertainment, the bar, the big screens and Victory Lane on top of that."
It’s year two for this outsize, infield HQ for NASCAR’s die-hardiest devotees. "A lot of people were curious to see how it would go over," Powell says about this extravagant playground for race ticket-holders. "It was an extremely big hit with the fans because they could see a part of the sport they had previously not been able to see."
No, locker-room cameras don’t reveal drivers in their corporate-logo Fruit of the Looms — get your mind out of the pit.
But for a not-inconsiderable price — keep a Ben Franklin or two in your money clip — the Neon Garage does afford pass-holders a peek at drivers and their teams prepping in the garage bays.
"They’re able to see Jeff Gordon or Dale Earnhardt Jr. climb out of their race car once he’s come in from practicing on the racetrack, communicating with the crew chief and making adjustments," Powell says.
"If you go to any other speedway on the NASCAR circuit, you have to be a sponsor or know someone to get into the garage — less than 1 percent of people who attend a NASCAR race can get in there. And strangely enough, I’ve had several members of the race teams say to me that they really like the Neon Garage because fans could see the work that goes into preparing the race cars. They felt they were getting more credit here. Everywhere else, they work in a vacuum."
Beyond boasting racetrack viewing from both elevated and ground-level positions, the Neon Garage is home to a raft of concession stands and a center stage stuffed with tribute artists shuttling on and off every 15 minutes (except during the races). Expect hip-wriggling, song-belting approximations of Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Garth Brooks, Faith Hill, the Blues Brothers, Shania Twain, the Temptations, the Four Tops, Rod Stewart, the Beatles and Madonna, among others, with occasional drop-ins from the Speedway Dancers.
"We weren’t seeking acts to come out and perform for an hour at a time," Powell says. "It’s a quick hit type of thing."
There also will be entertainment acts both silent — Blue Man Group’s conceptual shenanigans will be a weekend-long attraction — and even stiff. "We have Madame Tussaud’s coming again this year," Powell says, noting that their wax-to-the-max display will include Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon.
Described by some in the press last year as a "NASCAR Disneyland," the Neon Garage also has some culinary advantages for those whose palates require a more sophisticated brand of raceway cuisine.
"We have a higher level of concessions than what we have out in the grandstands," Powell says. "We’ve got steak sandwiches, gourmet burgers, margaritas, and there’s a bar with bartenders ringing bells when they get a tip." (Get the hint? You’ll need to break those Ben Franklins into Alexander Hamiltons, Abe Lincolns and Georgie Washingtons.)
And when driver duels are done, winners can roll into Victory Lane and revel in the roar of Neon Garage rooters. "When a driver pulls into the winner’s circle, typically he’s met by sponsors and photographers and officials. That’s the extent of it at most other speedways," Powell says. "In Las Vegas, there’s also a throng of a couple of thousand race fans getting access to the race winner they can’t get at any other speedway."
Turbo-charged attractions are enough to make this glitz stop worth a pit stop.
Contact reporter Steve Bornfeld at firstname.lastname@example.org or (702) 383-0256.ON THE WEB Special NASCAR section what: The Neon Garage when: 9 a.m.-7 p.m. today; 8 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday; 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Sunday where: Las Vegas Motor Speedway, 7000 Las Vegas Blvd. North tickets: $129 today and Saturday; $149 Sunday, plus race admission (644-4444) NASCAR EVENTS There’s NASCAR Weekend fun to be had beyond the Las Vegas Motor Speedway: Fremont Street’s Race Jam Weekend kicks off today with Las Vegas cover band The Garage Boys performing from 6 to 8 p.m., followed by Bruce Springsteen tribute band Bruce in the USA from 9 to 11 p.m. On Saturday, LoCash Cowboys will showcase their brand of country, rock and hip-hop from 6 to 8 p.m., followed by country singer Blake Shelton from 9 to 11 p.m. All performances are free and will be on the Third Street Stage. Las Vegas native Kurt Busch will host a car display/autograph-signing session at the Palms today. Free and open to the public, the car display will take place from 5 to 9 p.m. at the Palms Porte Cochere (main valet entrance), with the autograph session from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. Fans are encouraged to bring their own memorabilia for an autograph. Then Busch will introduce a performance by the Mighty Mighty Bosstones at The Pearl. For more information, call the Palms at 942-7777 or visit palms.com. Driver Jamie McMurray will appear at Treasure Island at 7 p.m. today. For more information, call 894-7111. — REVIEW-JOURNAL