Las Vegas Motor Speedway

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Circuit Overview

Las Vegas Motor Speedway is something of a misnomer, since the facility is in fact a large complex of courses, which encompasses not only the more celebrated 1.5 miles tri-oval but also multiple infield and outfield road courses, separate paved short track oval, dirt courses and a drag strip.

It was built on the site of the former Las Vegas Speedrome, later Las Vegas Speedway Park.  A small portion of the original road course remains, though is not used for racing currently.

Today, the superspeedway continues to host its March NASCAR races and October NHRA drag event, alongside a busy calendar of evening and night races at the Bullring. Various racing schools and test events complete the track schedule, while the site has hosted the annual Electric Daisy Carnival music festival each June since 2011.

Circuit History

Many people believe that history of racing in this corner of Nevada, just up the road from Nellis Air Force Base, begins with the construction of the present day superspeedway in 1996. In fact, engines first fired up here in competition nearly a quarter century before.

From the mid 1960s onwards, racing in the Las Vegas area was dominated by the Stardust International Raceway in Spring Valley. Built by the owners of the Stardust Hotel and Casino, it featured a flat, 3-mile (4.8km), 13-turn road course, and a quarter-mile drag strip. The idea was to provide another attraction which would bring high-rollers to the area who could then be persuaded to part with their cash at the casinos. However, the hotel was sold in 1969, and the new owners largely abandoned the track as they preferred fewer 'distractions' for their customers. By 1970 it had closed completely and the land sold for housing.

Road course origins

This left the local drag and auto racing community without anywhere to compete, so plans began to formulate for a new drag and road course on the other side of town. Known as Las Vegas Speedway Park, a quarter-mile drag strip opened for business in February 1972, with a 1.6 mile road course following a few weeks later. In July of that year IMSA held an event on the road course, and the track soon became an established part of the local racing scene.

In 1983, the road course was modified slightly, with the corner made slightly more open and sweeping, with a right-left curve combination introduced just before it to create a little extra variety. Flat as a pancake and with its dusty and desert-like surrounds, this was a place where triple digit numbers would be seen on thermometers at the height of summer. Nevertheless, it established itself as a popular testing venue, in part due to its relative privacy and in part due to the fact that there was very little to hit expensively if things went wrong. The Nissan and Toyota GTP teams could be seen testing here regularly in the 1980s and '90s.

The closure of another local track – this time Craig Road Speedway, a 0.250-mile paved oval in North Las Vegas – presented another opportunity for expansion. Disenfranchised drivers asked the operator Alex Rodriguez to build a .375-mile paved oval and he duly obliged, the D-shaped banked course opening in 1985. Situated alongside the drag strip and to the south of the road course, it came complete with a 4,000 seat grandstand.

By the end of the 1980s, the facility was a little careworn and the landowner – the City of Las Vegas – decided to put it up for sale in early 1989 when concerns were raised about the level of public liability insurance held by the promoter. Local amateur racer Robert Deiro, who ran an auction and liquidation company, began putting together a deal to buy and redevelop the facility, with backing from casino pioneer Jackie Gaughan. But just days before the sale, Gaughan pulled out, leaving Deiro with a frantic search for new investors.

New owners plan major investment

Three days before the deadline to submit a purchase proposal to the city, Deiro ran into Las Vegas entrepreneur Richie Clyne at an auction and asked if he was interested in becoming involved. Clyne liked the idea and pitched it to Imperial Palace owner Ralph Engelstad, who agreed to fund it for $1.07 million. Thus the deal was secured and the circuit began its new phase of ownership, under the Las Vegas International Speedway name. The road course enjoyed a slight rebirth, with the road course holding AMA Superbike rounds. In 1990, the Superdrome also became part of the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series. It was on this course that Kurt Busch, the 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, began his racing career, followed a few years later by younger brother Kyle.

After a change in name to Las Vegas Raceway Park, Clyne and Engelstad began plotting a more substantial overhaul of the site. Together with fellow casino owner William Bennett, Engelstad pledged $200 million to build a new 1.5 mile superspeedway course and a complete overhaul of the existing road, oval and drag courses.

In early 1995, ground was broken and construction began on a 1500-acre site. Construction was on a truly epic scale – more earth was moved than in the construction of Hoover Dam, making it the largest excavation in the State of Nevada. Thirty-five miles of underground sewers, water pipes and storm drains were installed alongside 50,000 ft of conduit for power, fibre optics, telephone, sound and CCTV cameras were installed. In addition, a new intersection was built on Interstate 15, which runs alongside the side of the facility, allowing race fans to exit directly into the parking lots. In true Vegas style, a wedding chapel was even planned for the site, though in untypical fashion it was never actually built...

At the same time original road course was given a complete makeover, with a revised and extended layout (part of the original course having been demolished to create Turn One of the superspeedway). Its last race in original form was an American IndyCar Series and South-West region motorcycle meeting in early September 1995. The Speedrome was also revised, with a new pit lane installed on the infield for the first time and the start-finish line switched from the tri-oval to the former back straight. In its new guise it initially operated under the main Las Vegas Motor Speedway name, before being re-named 'The Bullring' in 1999.

The new track secured a date on the Indy Racing League calendar for its inaugural year and in June 1996, IRL drivers Tony Stewart and Richie Hearn became the first drivers to test the new superspeedway. Hearn, who would go on to win the inaugural Las Vegas 500K on September 16, set a fast time with a speed of 222.359 mph, a world record for a 1.5 mile oval. The AMA Superbike finale was also held at LVMS in October 1996, while rounds of the NASCAR Winston West, NASCAR SuperTruck and World of Outlaws rounded off the competition year in November.

In 1998, the track gained a race on the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule for the first time, Mark Martin taking the win in the inaugural Las Vegas 400 in front of 120,000 spectators The profits from all the NASCAR events totalled $40 million for the local economy.

Speedway Motorsports steps in

Come year's end, Bennett and Engelstad decided to sell the facility. Having been the visionaries willing to fund its creation, they realised that they effectively knew nothing about running a successful track and elected to hand the reigns over to Bruton Smith's Speedway Motorsports Group for for $215 million, making a handy profit in the process.

Under Speedway Motorsports ownership, the facility has continued to thrive. The ALMS paid two visits to the oval road course, with JJ Lehto and Steve Soper winning for BMW in 1999 and Audi's Frank Biela and Emanuele Pirro taking the spoils in 2000. Then, in 2004 and 2005, the Champ Car Series held races on the tri-oval, Newman-Haas driver Sebastian Bourdais running out the winner on both occasions.

A revised outfield road course debuted in 2003, with new north and south extensions designed by Romain Thievin (owner of the Exotics Racing school which is based on the LVMS site). Slight modifications to the bus-stop chicane on the north extension were made in 2005, while the original 1996 layouts also remains available for use. WERA motorcycle events are regularly scheduled on the road course.

Banking changes bid to improve racing action

In 2006, plans were announced to reconfigure the track after the March NASCAR race, increasing the banking from 12° to 20°. This reconfiguration entailed "progressive banking" with the gradient increasing as it moved towards the outside of the track, in a bid to increase side-by-side racing. Pit road was also moved 275 feet (84m) closer to the grandstands as part of the remodelling, now featuring a slightly curving profile and incorporating a new quarter-mile oval for Legends Cars, in the tri-oval area.

Other changes included new pit entry and exit roads and increased asphalt run-off along the back stretch, which required the sealing off interior road course, bringing about an end to the longer combined road and oval combinations.

The revised superspeedway opened in August 2008, with Las Vegas native Kurt Busch becoming the first to turn a lap in testing in his Penske Dodge NASCAR. Jimmie Johnson would go on to capture the first Sprint Cup Series win on the new pavement in 2007.

The track suffered its darkest moment in 2011, when it was scheduled as the series finale for the IZOD Indycar Series. What should have been a celebration turned to tragedy with a horrific crash during the 11th lap of the race which involved 15 cars. Reigning Indy 500 champion Dan Wheldon was killed after his car flew into the perimeter fence and burst into flames. The race was formally abandoned by IndyCar officials, with the unaffected drivers completing an emotional five-lap salute on the track in honour of Wheldon. IndyCar officials announced that they would not return to Las Vegas until the causes of the crash were fully investigated and understood. It has not returned to the schedule in subsequent years.

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Circuit info

Las Vegas Motor Speedway, 7000 Las Vegas Blvd. N., Las Vegas, NV 89115, USA
+1 702 644 4444
Official website

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