SEASON FINALE MAKES LAS VEGAS 'ELECTRIC'
By Dave Lewandowski, Indycar.com
LAS VEGAS -- Even for this megawatt desert oasis of glitz, glamour and grandiosity, IndyCars being driven on The Strip was eclectic.
TV helicopters hovered above while thousands lined Las Vegas Boulevard to get images and text “Hey, you’ll never guess what I’m seeing” as 34 IZOD IndyCar Series drivers in the cars they're racing at Las Vegas Motor Speedway passed by at a pace that was 190 mph slower than Danica Patrick’s blistering 224.7 mph practice lap earlier in the day.
Even shutting down a mile-long section of the busy thoroughfare for the 8 p.m. IZOD IndyCar Series Parade presented by Verizon Wireless bathed in the bright lights of marques was a first for the city.
“That was one of the coolest things I’ve seen,” offered Cassie Kelley of Scottsdale, Ariz., as she held her ground among the throng near the Bellagio Resort & Casino. “I saw Mario Andretti driving a two-seat race car. I saw Danica, and someone told me they saw Johnny Rutherford in the (pace) car. Now I’m going to stay an extra day and go to the race.”
Fronting the Bellagio was the staging area for the command to “start your engines” for the laps between Monte Carlo and Flamingo Streets, and – on cue – the famous fountains came to life as drivers posed for a full-field photo.
“I didn’t know if they would allow us to go three-wide on The Strip,” Telemundo Newman/Haas Racing driver Oriol Servia said. “I think next time we do it we should do a donut exhibition. It was very cool. I wanted to take pictures while I was driving.”
Conquest Racing's Sebastian Saavedra did (right). "Great town. Great fans and a main road for us to play around," he said.
The entire event, staged with the logistical assistance of the City of Las Vegas and the Las Vegas Visitors and Convention Bureau, impressed Brian Greenberg of Atlanta, who seconded Servia’s proposal about donuts.
“I came to watch the water show, saw all the staging and hung around,” said Greenberg, who arrived in town an hour earlier. “Boy, I’m glad I decided to take a walk. I even got a couple of autographs and photos. The noise of the engines when they fired up and the cars under the lights was really cool.”
The parade was among the featured off-track attractions of the inaugural IZOD INDYCAR World Championships Presented by Honda that culminates with the crowing of the series champion following the 200-lap Las Vegas Indy 300 Oct. 16 on the 1.5-mile oval about 15 miles north of the epicenter of everything epic.
Following the parade was a quick change from firesuits to club attire as drivers were whisked to the IZOD INDYCAR World Championships Kickoff Party presented by Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka at the Wet Republic at the MGM Grand Resort & Casino. VIPs and the public mingled with the stars of the IZOD IndyCar Series and other celebs such as Michael Irvin, Tommy Lasorda, Robert Horry, Chris McDonald (Law & Order: Criminal Intent) and Benito Martinez (The Shield).
Practice and qualifications are scheduled for Oct. 14, with more excitement on The Strip in the evening. The INDYCAR Charity Blackjack Tournament presented by AirMed at MGM Grand features IZOD IndyCar Series drivers playing alongside celebs such as Pro Football Hall of Famer Warren Moon, Ricardo Antonio Chavira (Desperate Housewives) and Tracy McGrady.
Earlier in the day at the Fan Zone at Mandalay Bay, Licorice Pizza performs on the Verizon Stage. At 2:30 p.m. Oct. 15, Good Charlotte is in concert.
Race week culminates at the speedway Oct. 16 with the Firestone Indy Lights race at 9:45 a.m. followed by a public IZOD IndyCar Series drivers meeting. A complimentary concert by Los Lonely Boys at 11:15 on the Neon Garage Stage sets the stage for the IZOD IndyCar Series race. The 82nd Airborne All-American Chorus will perform the national anthem.
Spectators will be invited to celebrate with the IZOD IndyCar Series champion in the Neon Garage Victory Circle.
In conceptualizing the composite event, INDYCAR CEO Randy Bernard sought to engage visitors, race ticket-buyers and residents of Nevada and neighboring states by complementing the IZOD IndyCar Series championship-deciding race with complimentary entertainment away from the racetrack.
“Las Vegas is an entertaining city and when you put on a great event like the IZOD INDYCAR World Championships and you have two men fighting it out for the championship with Will (Power) and Dario (Franchitti), I think it’s important for us to make sure that we give everything we can to our fans,” Bernard said.