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‘Night of Fire’ at LVMS promises to light up asphalt, sky

Updated July 1, 2019 - 6:32 pm

There are few things more American than baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet, at least according to the Madison Avenue types responsible for the General Motors account.

Add in a parade or at least some parade laps before the green flag falls, and never is it more true than on the Fourth of July — or thereabouts — at the Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

If you think a cookout, grandma’s apple pie served with a heaping scoop of vanilla ice cream and a “Twilight Zone” marathon on an obscure cable channel is a giant slice of Americana, you probably haven’t been to LVMS on Bottle Rocket Eve for the Night of Fire.

The final Whelan All-American Series racing program before the summer break will feature a NASCAR Super Late Models race that will last 76 laps or 45 minutes, whichever comes first Wednesday.

There also will be a mayhem-inducing figure-8 trailer race, fireworks and cheap hot dogs ($2) and beer ($3), and it doesn’t get more American than that in declaring one’s independence. On past Nights of Fire, LVMS also has been known to bring out a jet car and melt stuff down with its fiery exhaust, such as Bee Gees records and certificates to weddings that didn’t pan out.

But the jet car won’t be melting stuff down this year on account of the fire marshal or whatever.

Las Vegas tradition

“It’s like going to a baseball game on July Fourth,” track championship leader Chris Clyne said about stock car racing’s role in the local Independence Day celebration. “Since I was a kid I’d come out here July 3 and Cashman Field on the Fourth. There’s nothing more American.”

A tenet of grassroots auto racing as well as those “Cars” movies for kids is that they tend to feature good guys and a bad guy. This sometimes is true in big-time stock car racing, too, especially when Kyle Busch is in one of his moods.

The bad guy usually isn’t a bad guy, per se. He’s just the guy who wins most of the time.

Chris Clyne has won most of the races at the Bullring this season, and nine of the past 11 dating to 2018. One supposes that makes him the bad guy. He leads Scott Gafforini 291-238 in the points. Gafforini is a six-time Bullring champion, so he used to be the bad guy.

It’s sort of like pro wrestling or “Keeping Up With the Kardashians.”

Chris Clyne is the son of Richie Clyne, considered the ultimate good guy for having helped found Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The speed plant was sold to Bruton Smith in 1998, and Smith and his people made it new and improved. But without Richie Clyne’s vision, there probably wouldn’t be two NASCAR tripleheaders in Las Vegas each racing season and acrid tire smoke-belching burnouts on the Strip.

“My dad dedicated 10 years of his life to the speedway project that does a lot for the city,” said Chris Clyne, who serves on the board of the Las Vegas chapter of Speedway Children’s Charities. “My dad is definitely my hero and my best friend.”

But sometimes a kid also needs a big brother growing up.

Speed mentor

Davey Hamilton, who raced in 14 Indianapolis 500s and formerly worked for Richie Clyne, was Chris Clyne’s mentor. They remain close to this day — so close that Hamilton will fly into Las Vegas to drive Clyne’s second Super Late Model car on the Night of Fire.

“Davey was an ultimate big brother when I was a kid,” Chris Clyne said. “Such a positive role model for anybody. I’m just very lucky to have him in my life.”

Clyne, 37, is something of an anomaly at the Bullring in that he doesn’t have aspirations of driving in NASCAR’s big leagues and never did. He is a hobbyist in the truest sense, usually limiting his racing to a few regional events each year such as the Fall Classic at LVMS.

“This year we’ve been busy with other life adventures, so I was like we’ll stay home and support local short track racing,” he said. “I’m normally out there anyway (assisting young drivers). But sometimes it’s fun to drive yourself. Nothing better than hanging out with great friends, working on a piece of metal and trying to make it go faster.”

Like baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and whatever domestic car model you happen to prefer, Chris Clyne said it just seems like an American thing to do on the Fourth of July, or thereabouts.

Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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