Bernie Ecclestone wants it on 'The Strip.' But does The Strip want it?
As Motorsport.com first reported on October 18, there is a deal in the works – a real-money deal – that could bring Formula One back to Las Vegas by 2016 or 2017. “It’s about 50-50 right now,” said an insider aware of the proposal, “but it’s a genuine 50 percent chance. It’s a legitimate effort.”
The race could be a companion to the Canadian Grand Prix, or a third race in North America accompanying this weekend's race at Circuit of the Americas, and next year's race in Mexico City.
Fine, I suppose, but here’s my problem: It’s a quote from F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone that said, “Vegas says they are ready to go, and it would be on the Strip for sure.”
Really? I’ve spent the last couple of hours driving the Las Vegas Strip, which is technically Las Vegas Boulevard. Where the strip begins and ends isn’t set in stone, or even neon: There is no sign that says, “The Strip Begins Here, Ends there.” From the Las Vegas McCarran International Airport on the south, Nellis air Force Base on the north, it’s all Las Vegas Boulevard.
When Bernie Ecclestone talks about the Strip, though, he’s envisioning a part of the road far removed from the “PRIME RIB $3.99” and “THE LOOSEST SLOTS IN VEGAS” signs, a part where the Cosmopolitan is one on side, the Wynn on the other side, not the part where the blue-collarish Stratosphere sort of begins the unofficial Strip on one end, and the Airport sort of closes it on the other. This part of the glamour-Strip is generally accepted to be a 4.2-mile stretch where the top hotels and casinos sit. Not so much older ones like Circus Circus, but newer ones like the Aria or Bellagio.
But sorry, though, I don’t see it. I’ve looked long and hard for a possible course layout that includes part of the Strip, and if you include any part of the Strip, you sort of shut down the whole thing. Detouring this level of tourist traffic in rented minivans or convertible Ford Mustangs, plus the taxicabs and 40-foot Hummer limos – well, I can’t see where and how that would happen.
Casinos will have the last word
Casinos don’t make money when people are on the street. They don’t make money when all the parking is taken up by race fans staying 10 miles away in Motel 6. They don’t make money when customers who could care less about Sebastian Alonso or Ricciardo Daniel are trying to get to their hotel, but can’t figure out how. The hotel I'm at is featuring a tribute to Red Skelton in the theater, who last appeared regularly on TV in 1971 and has been dead for more than 17 years. I don't see much crossover between Red Skelton fans and Formula One fans. I could be wrong.
Undeniably, though, there is a sheen of sophistication on this part of the Strip, despite the parade of dollar-beer gawkers who tread the sidewalks looking for cheap buffets, or drive 20 miles an hour looking for Celine Dion or David Copperfield. Disrupt this normal flow of traffic, and it would be like blocking a parade of hungry ants between your picnic and their ant mound.
So you can see why Ecclestone wants a Las Vegas Grand Prix that looks and feels elite, to erase all memories of when it was in the Caesars Palace parking lot, a miserable 2.3-mile track that was sort of two paperclips surrounded by a rectangle. That was in 1981 and 1982. Nobody here has parking lots; they have parking garages. Including Caesars Palace. And you see why Bernie likely wouldn’t embrace the course that Champ Car competed on rather successfully in 2007 at the north end of Las Vegas Boulevard, next to the Fremont Experience, despite running on Easter Sunday: Too down-market for his taste.
Las Vegas is so overdeveloped that it’s hard to keep up with what is going where without weekly updates. Construction, both road and buildings, is constant. The Strip, on its best day, is jammed. Waiting for the left-turn arrow just to get onto Flamingo Boulevard takes so long you think the apparatus is broken.
Actually, the whole apparatus that is Las Vegas is kind of broken when it comes to potential distractions from the central mission here. Casinos run the place, and their welfare is dependent on people being able to get to them, park, go inside, spend money. Las Vegas Boulevard and its ancillary side streets are so packed, and typically under construction, that the idea of shutting down any part of the main Strip, the part I’m looking at outside my hotel window, seems as likely and closing down Broadway in Manhattan for a race.
Also, I don't know what kind of pull Bruton Smith, owner of Las Vegas Motor Speedway, has in this city, but I can't see him devoting time , energy or money to helping bring in a race that he and his track won't benefit from.
I am seldom the Smartest Person in the Room, and I don’t presume to tell Bernie Ecclestone and the apparently well-heeled investors who want to race on the Strip. But if there’s a track out there, Bernie, I couldn’t find it.