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Woody: Move To Vegas Is A Winner for NASCAR

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, April 24 2009
NASCAR and Las Vegas are about to become fast friends.   

NASCAR and Las Vegas are about to become fast friends.

By Larry Woody | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

NASCAR made a wise move with by switching its big awards shindig from New York to Las Vegas, although I confess to a twinge of nostalgia – or maybe it’s the crick that’s still in my neck from my last Big Apple tour.

I attended the first NASCAR banquet in the Big Apple in 1981 and had a ball. My sportswriting buddy, Joe Caldwell, and I painted the town – Bubba does Broadway.

We went shopping at Bloomingdale’s and I bought a tie that cost more than the suit I’d brought to wear with it.

It was wintertime, and we checked out the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Plaza and went ice skating. (No, we had no ice skates – another story for another time.)

One day we ate lunch with Richard Petty and his family at a sidewalk café. When passersby gawked at Richard’s cowboy hat we gawked right back at ‘em.

One memorable moment: strolling into the Waldorf lounge late one night and hearing Bud Moore’s nasal twang echoing off the chandeliers.

The first banquet was “casual dress.” I’m sure New Yorkers wondered if that meant we’d show up barefoot. Waiters placed side bets on who would be the first to drink from the finger bowl.

But everybody minded their manners, there was no gunplay, and the banquet was a hoot. Caldwell and I were there because home-town hotfoot Darrell Waltrip had won the championship. We shared a table with Darrell’s wife Stevie, his sister, Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander and Bristol track owner Gary Baker.

After picking up what was (back then) sizable checks from Winston and Busch, Darrell ended his acceptance speech by saying, “Thanks a lot – and y’all keep smoking and drinking!” (DW, of course, did neither.)

It was fun and NASCAR got what it wanted – some big city exposure. The city really embraced the event, with stock cars cruising Park Avenue and photo ops on every corner.

But over the years the New York banquet – like a lot of us who attended that first one – grew old and stale. You can take only so many snapshots of a driver standing in front of the Empire State Building.

A change of scenery was in order, and there’s no spicier scenery than the naughtily-winking neon lights of Las Vegas.

I covered the inaugural Cup race in Vegas in 1998. Mark Martin ran away with it. The race was, frankly, a snoozer – which wasn’t all bad since most of we ink-stained media wretches were in dire need of a nap by race time.

Several of us took in a Willie Nelson concert one bleary evening, and the next night we tried our hand at some games of chance. (See that big casino just down the Strip from the Mandalay Bay? I paid for it.) One evening a tourist/fan wearing a Bobby Labonte cap, before going belly-up at the blackjack table, tipped a cocktail waitress a $100 chip. I remember when you could have a big weekend in Darlington for $100.

Vegas is like the fourth turn at Talladega – it’s trilling but, brother, you’d better stay on your toes or you’ll be into the wall.

If its entertainment you want, Vegas knows how to serve it up, hot and steaming and the town always rolls out the crimson carpet when NASCAR comes calling. Feathers and tinsel meet boots and denim, and a good time is had by all.

In New York, the awards show had become predictable and boring. Predictable and boring are banned at the Las Vegas city limits, so hopefully NASCAR will do something spice up the banquet to go with its spicy new venue. Unplugging the drivers’ teleprompter would be a good start.

Also, I think Bud Moore and Wayne Newton would make terrific co-emcees.

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, April 24 2009
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