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New speedway VP has full plate

Mike Mossholder can take the heat.

He didn’t shy away from it as a professional tennis player in the Southeast, where summer court temperatures were on par with the ambient summer air of Southern Nevada.

But the new vice president of sales and marketing at Las Vegas Motor Speedway now finds himself on a hot seat.

He is no higher in rank than other VPs under speedway general manager Chris Powell. But in a business climate that could not be any colder, his role should rank No. 2 to Powell’s.

Mossholder, 45, has begun to lead his staff into battle in an economic war zone. The speedway needs major sponsors for three of its five major events: the NASCAR truck series race Sept. 26, the NHRA pro tour drag race in October and the Sprint Cup Series race Feb. 28.

If not for Las Vegas Events, a support sponsor for truck and fall drag events, the only returning major sponsor would be Sam’s Town as backer for the NASCAR Nationwide race that precedes the Cup race.

The sponsor downturn isn’t being felt only in Las Vegas. After 11 years, the speedway’s sister track near Charlotte, N.C., will lose a major backer at the end of the year. Lowe’s officials said Thursday the home improvement company will not continue to pay for the right to have the former Charlotte Motor Speedway named Lowe’s Motor Speedway. Lowe’s paid $35 million in the first 10 years to have its name attached to one of the country’s three most popular tracks.

Race teams also have lost sponsors, and American car manufacturers have cut back spending on racing.

The halcyon days of five years ago are over. Back then, as many calls were taken from potential sponsors as were solicited by tracks. Now more than ever, creativity in developing “partnerships” is needed.

Mossholder takes over for Ricky May, who contributed some unique programs during his eight-year tenure at the speedway, including corporate ticket packages that put about 60,000 in the stands for truck races the past few years. He also helped devise a program that lured Shelby Automobiles to sponsor the 2009 Cup race.

But May also alienated some key players in Las Vegas. Although Mossholder said he didn’t want to talk about past speedway dealings, he admitted a priority since starting three weeks ago has been “calling around trying to renew some relationships.”

The importance of major sponsors is not merely to fatten the speedway’s bottom line. Getting a sponsor to lay down $1 million or so to sponsor the Cup race can — we hope — help keep ticket prices down.

(To Powell’s credit, despite not having a Cup sugar daddy, the cost of about 140,000 grandstand seats throughout 2010 Cup weekend will be lower than this year’s when they go on sale Aug. 17.)

Mossholder has limited experience in selling horsepower. But he led the sales and marketing staff at Churchill Downs for the past two 20-horsepower Kentucky Derbies. You might have heard of that race.

Mossholder is not just looking toward expanding the versatility of the massive LVMS complex to include megaconcerts. He wants to broaden its reach as a Western region entertainment destination.

Most important to local racing fans, he foresees an added emphasis on promoting and marketing the speedway’s dragstrip and Bullring, venues that have been pushed so far off the back burner, they haven’t even been on the stove.

Mossholder has overcome adversity before. Before sipping mint juleps in bluegrass country, he spent five years as sales and marketing boss for the Miami Dolphins and their stadium. Talk about a challenge, he was there for the Dolphins’ 1-15 season in 2007, and the team had better than a .500 record only twice during his tenure.

At least at LVMS, he knows each event will have a winner.

Jeff Wolf’s motor sports column is published Friday. He can be reached at jwolf@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0247. Visit Wolf’s motor sports blog at lvrj.com/blogs/heavypedal/ throughout the week.

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