Three local races offered many ups, a few downs

Three major motor sports events in five weekends in Southern Nevada kept the Las Vegas brand in front of millions throughout the country and internationally.

Each of the past three big events in town is worthy of final thoughts.

• NHRA NATIONALS — Last weekend’s NHRA Nationals provided more drama than any race in Southern Nevada or anywhere else.

The event was an emotional tribute to Eric Medlen, the John Force Racing driver who died last month after a testing accident.

Normally stoic Brandon Bernstein was in tears after winning the Top Fuel title that allowed him to honor his best friend. Robert Hight preceded by winning the Funny Car title for his teammate.

Crowds were among the best on the NHRA Powerade Drag Racing circuit, averaging more than 20,000 for each of three days.

Fans also saw Mike Ashley produce the fastest run ever — 334.32 mph — in Funny Car.

Saturday marked the end to John Force’s record 395 consecutive events in which he qualified for Sunday eliminations. The last time he failed to qualify was in 1987.

And could anyone have envisioned three months ago that the most successful Force after five events would be daughter Ashley? She qualified third best at Las Vegas and won her first-round matchup Sunday for her second elimination-round win of the season. Dad, meanwhile, is 0-for-4. The old man is 19th in points; the rookie is 12th.

• VEGAS GRAND PRIX — The inaugural races downtown April 6 to 8 were successful regarding circuit quality, race operation logistics and getting locals to talk about downtown more than at any time over the past two decades.

But improvement is possible, and, in a post-race press conference, owners Dale Jensen and Bradley Yonover vowed to make advances.

For those attending the event, Jensen hated that lines were too long and that spectators could not walk from Main Street to the west side of the railroad tracks to reach the main grandstand, race-car paddock and start-finish line. They promise pedestrian bridges over the tracks and/or more shuttle buses next year.

The turnout Sunday of at least 40,000, according to event president Jim Freudenberg, was impressive. The crowd attending the free concerts at the Fremont Street Experience rivaled the size of its New Year’s Eve party, and a benefit concert that around 800 high rollers attended raised an undisclosed amount for the Lou Ruvo Brain Institute’s Keep Memory Alive Foundation.

The events included more good than bad, but the bad was very bad for too many locals.

The event needs to address issues that inconvenienced a few local business, workers and folks who want to get through downtown without being impeded. Too many were locked out of the Greyhound terminal and left with the challenge of getting to the temporary bus depot.

To the Grand Prix’s credit, all remnants of the concrete barriers and fencing were gone eight days ahead of schedule.

The biggest disappointments were the Champ Car World Series featured race and limited visibility for Las Vegas during live television coverage on NBC.

Rarely did a worldwide viewing audience get to see the best of the downtown casino district and glimpses of new structures such as the Internal Revenue Service building and World Market Center on Grand Central Parkway.

Camera shots were tight on race cars and drivers, but, considering sacrifices citizens made, the biggest payoff should have been exposure of what everyone hopes is a revitalization of the area.

From a racing standpoint, were it not for local drivers Paul Tracy and Alex Tagliani, having the Champ Car series return is pointless because it has no name recognition other than team owner Paul Newman.

A shift should be made to the Indy Racing League, whose drivers are more well known. The regional NASCAR Grand National West series should be added unless stock cars, which weigh more than twice that of an open-wheel racer, would chew up the asphalt.

And marrying the Grand Prix date to Easter weekend isn’t the best plan.

Next year Easter is March 23, which might be only two weeks after NASCAR Weekend at the speedway.

If people were irked with inconveniences the Grand Prix caused this year, then riot police had better be on standby if the Las Vegas NASCAR date holds true to the second weekend in March and the Grand Prix is two weeks later.

Cup visitors won’t be gracious if facing detours caused by setting up for the Grand Prix circuit.

• NASCAR — In this town, NASCAR is king, and the speedway is its racing palace.

The best thing the Grand Prix did for the speedway was to make more people appreciative of having a permanent racing facility and show how traffic problems aren’t major when they’re 10 miles from downtown.

Jeff Wolf’s motor sports column is published Friday. He can be reached at 383-0247 or

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