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Cup Banquet Could Be Vegas Bound

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, April 3 2009
Jimmie Johnson celebrated his third Cup championship in New York. Future celebrations may be in Las Vegas.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images for NASCAR 

 

Jimmie Johnson celebrated his third Cup championship in New York. Future celebrations may be in Las Vegas. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Fort Worth, Texas –What happens in New York City might be headed to Vegas at the end of the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.

NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Awards Banquet, a staple in The Big Apple for 27 years, reportedly will be relocated to Las Vegas this December.  According to a report in Friday morning’s Las Vegas Review-Journal, NASCAR and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority have reached an agreement in principle to move what has evolved into a week-long celebration of stock car racing’s top drivers and teams.

Rossi Ralenkotter, president of the Vegas group, confirmed to the newspaper an agreement to move the festivities from New York and make it a citywide event centered on the Strip. The Review-Journal reported that Las Vegas wants a three- to five-year deal. The convention group would pay between $500,000 and $1 million annually. NASCAR would select the actual venue of the ceremony, presumably somewhere on the Strip.

NASCAR’s official statement on the rumor was delivered by Jim Hunter, NASCAR’s vice president of corporate communications. “It’s no secret that Las Vegas would be an outstanding venue for the Sprint Cup Awards Banquet,” Hunter said at Texas Motor Speedway, site of Sunday’s Samsung 500. “However, there is nothing in stone at the moment.”

Moving the banquet to Vegas has become a cause célèbre for racing mogul O. Bruton Smith, whose Speedway Motorsports Inc. empire includes LVMS and TMS. Asked if he was involved in the latest negotiations, Smith said, “I’ve been involved with it the last three years, just pleading, begging, selling and talking to people in Vegas. So I’m glad that NASCAR is making good decisions.”

Along with campaigning for a switch of the banquet, Smith also has been lobbying NASCAR for a second Cup date for LVMS, a 1.5-mile quadoval north of the city. If the banquet is moved to Vegas, Smith theoretically would have more ammunition for his argument to (1) grant LVMS a second Cup weekend and (2) make it the season-ender.

“That would be fantastic,” Smith said at TMS. “We thought about that. We still have to get NASCAR to think about that.” 

NASCAR currently wraps up its season at Homestead-Miami Speedway, which is owned and operated by corporate rival International Speedway Corp. Given the fact that the season-ending race is a huge revenue producer for all involved, it is unlikely ISC and its stockholders easily would cede that spot on the 36-race schedule to Smith’s company.

Smith acknowledged the convoluted politics involved, noting, “I don’t think it’ll be any different.” But Smith said there are several logical reasons to move the banquet to the desert. “No. 1, the hotel rooms will be half or less than New York,” Smith said. “There won’t be snow or ice on the ground. We won’t be diverted _ we’ll be able to land an airplane there. And hopefully, we get some good production company that could put this thing together and do it right.”

The cost of doing business in New York City, even for one holiday weekend, has become an issue for Cup organizations during the current economic downturn. The top 10 drivers in points participate in the Friday night banquet, and not all teams can afford to bring key racing personnel to the city.

NASCAR originally moved the event to New York, the nation’s No. 1 media market, to promote its stars. In recent years, that has included a week-long round of TV appearances by the new champion on the morning talk and variety shows. NASCAR also has staged a photo-shoot in Times Square with the top 10 drivers and their show cars. But many insiders feel the sport never has been fully embraced by the citizens of New York City, and the event largely has become a perk for sponsors and corporate executives more so than the people who toil in the trenches for 10 months.

Also, moving the event to Vegas would allow NASCAR to use LVMS for some sort of fan participation celebration apart from the black-tie awards dinner, ceremony and teleprompter speeches.

Team owner Richard Petty, NASCAR’s acknowledged King, said he was unaware of the rumored move. “But I know that’s a Bruton Smith operation,” said Petty, of Richard Petty Motorsports. “He would like to (have it moved), plus Vegas would roll out the red carpet to get it out there. All I’ve heard is a lot of people would like to see it move. Don’t make no difference to me. I don’t usually go. I have never seen an awards banquet that I enjoyed if I wasn’t involved in it. If you wasn’t the top dog, then you’re just taking up space. The deal being that if they move from New York to Vegas, they would probably open it up to more spectators. I got no qualms either way.”

Jimmie Johnson, the three-time and reigning Cup champion for Hendrick Motorsports, said he is all for trying to improve the season-ending celebration.

“I think it would be smart to sit down a group of drivers, owners, sponsors and fans and find out what’s important to everyone and what the right venue might be,” Johnson said. “It might still be New York in that respect, or it might be Las Vegas, or it could be somewhere else. As long as we’re making progress with our sport and making the experience better and taking care of sponsors, then that’s what we need to do. I’m for whatever that would be.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr., NASCAR’s biggest crossover star, said he was excited about the possibilities.

“I think it’d be good for us. Let’s go do it,” said Junior, who is in his second year as teammate to Johnson. “I think we’ll all enjoy ourselves. Vegas is a fun town, hard not to have a good time there. Hopefully, nothing starts before lunch.”

Two-time Cup champion Tony Stewart, who is in his first season as owner of Stewart-Haas Racing, also approved of the move.

“If that happens, I’m all for it,” Stewart said after the day’s first practice. “That definitely fits my style a lot more than New York did. New York is a neat place. It doesn’t fit me and my lifestyle.”

Jeff Burton, who drives for car-owner Richard Childress, noted that stock car racing is driven by sponsors and fans being able to participate.

“Obviously, New York’s very convenient from a logistical standpoint,” Burton said. “But at the end of the day, our banquet needs life injected into it. It needs fan involvement. It needs a fresh look with new ideas. The Country Music Awards –those kind of things where the fans are involved, the fans are right there, that’s what we need. We need something new and exciting.

“What we do now is a really good thing, it’s a great thing to entertain sponsors, it’s a great thing to spend a night reflecting on the year and in some cases the history of our sport. But I just think it needs more energy. I think it needs to be something built around fun, built around excitement that embraces the fans more. Vegas may give us a better opportunity to do that. So I don’t care where it is. Only thing I care about is trying to find a way so it’s more exciting. I think it being in Vegas might give us a venue that enables us to do that. So I’m a proponent of it if it makes it more fun, more exciting, more energetic.”

Cup star Kyle Busch, a native of Las Vegas and a perennial contender in the 12-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup, said moving the event to his hometown would be special.

“It’d be pretty cool,” said Busch, of Joe Gibbs Racing. “New York is a good place for it. We always like going to New York, I know the girlfriends love going there for the shopping and getting Christmas stuff out of the way. Vegas will be a little different in that respect, but at least the weather might be a little warmer. If it changes, it changes and it’d be a different scenery for sure. You find a place big enough to hold that many people and I’m sure we’ll fill it.”

Carl Edwards, another perennial title contender at Roush Fenway Racing, said Vegas would be super…and he’s also got an offer of his own.

“They can come and have it on some farm land that I have there in Missouri, and invite everyone,” Edwards said. “Whatever makes it easier for the fans to come and show up and be a part of it, makes it more fun for the sponsors, I think that’s good. Nothing against New York… it’s a fine city, but I think everyone will be little more excited to go to the banquet in Las Vegas. It has a lot to offer for a lot of different people, so it’ll be fun. I hope we’re there and I hope we’re there for a long time.”

Smith, meanwhile, said he was bracing for the apparently inevitable move announcement.

“I was talking to some of my people in Charlotte today and I wanted to get some plans for some body guards or something,” Smith said. “I thought soon as the car owners and drivers find out we’re going to Vegas for that, they’ll be wanting to French kiss me.” 

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, April 3 2009
One Comment

One Comment »

  • Shannon says:

    Vegas would be better for fan involvement for all the reasons drivers and owners mentioned in the article. Course, somewhere in the middle of the country makes sense, as well! sm