LAS VEGAS - With music and a lot of scantily clad showgirls, Las Vegas celebrated its selection Tuesday as the newest stop on the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit.
The formal announcement of the March 1 race was made with typical Las Vegas glitz, with showgirls surrounding six race cars in downtown's Glitter Gulch as costumed characters from various resorts worked the crowd.
"Let's get ready to rumble," boxing announcer Michael Buffer said, and the engines roared to life.
The latest addition to the Winston Cup schedule was touted as a marketing coup for the city, which will spend $1 million for each of the next two years sponsoring the Las Vegas 400.
It will among 33 races on the Winston Cup schedule next season - the largest number in 25 years. NASCAR downsized its elite division to about 30 races per year in 1972 after running as many as 60 at times in the 1960s.
The race is expected to draw more than 100,000 fans to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, a 11/2 -mile oval that opened last year to rave reviews from Indy-car and NASCAR truck drivers.
"The biggest thing is it brings people in that are a new market to us," said Rossi Ralenkotter, marketing director for the sponsoring Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. "It's a new market of people with tremendous brand loyalty."
Several drivers joined NASCAR president Bill France and Las Vegas tourism officials for the announcement, which took place outside the casinos that line the downtown area.
It drew a mix of curious gamblers and stock car fans.
"Las Vegas is an exciting destination to millions of people, and in 1998 we hope to add a few to that crowd," France said.
Driver Dale Jarrett said he and his colleagues could hardly wait for the race, which takes the date formerly held by the Pontiac Excitement 400 in Richmond, Va. Richmond International Raceway officials said Tuesday that the first of their two annual races would be run June 6.
"We've all kind of taken a gamble along the way doing what we do, so this is like a perfect fit," Jarrett said. "We're all excited by it."
The addition of a Las Vegas race is the latest move by NASCAR away from its roots in the Southeast.
There was no racing this year at the short track in North Wilkesboro, N.C., where two events had been held annually from 1961 to 1996. That track was purchased by a consortium, and its races moved to sprawling superspeedways in Loudon, N.H., and Fort Worth, Texas.
Events at the new track in Fort Worth and another new facility outside Los Angeles were on the 32-race Winston Cup schedule for the first time this year. Both were sellouts - as Las Vegas should be - the norm for Winston Cup racing.
"I've said this has been a national sport for a number of years, but I think this solidifies it," driver Bill Elliott said. "The name Las Vegas brings a lot to the table for Winston Cup."
The announcement followed by only a few hours a vote by the Convention and Visitors Authority board to sponsor both a NASCAR race and an Indy Racing League event at the track. It opened last year with an IRL race.
The tourism board is spending $1.7 million a year for the two races, with $1 million going to the NASCAR race and $500,000 to the IRL race. The other $200,000 will be used for promotional purposes.
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