One significant surprise surrounding this year's F1 Las Vegas Grand Prix is that Formula 1 and FIA officials did not tap into the resources or expertise of holding big races in town gained by Las Vegas Motor Speedway, which has been holding NASCAR races since it opened in 1996.
LVMS also played host to IndyCar until the tragic death of Dan Wheldon there in a race in 2011, which prompted the series to pull out of any future IndyCar events at the track.
When it was first built, LVMS had original seating capacity of 125,000, which has steadily decreased to about 80,000 today. And while a NASCAR race on a 1.5-mile speedway is completely different than an F1 race through the streets in Las Vegas, F1 never tapped the knowledge base garnered over the years from LVMS officials such as track president and general manager Chris Powell, who will celebrate his 25th year in charge of the track next month.
Even though F1 will in one sense steal some of LVMS’s thunder as the primary motorsports venue in town, Powell holds no ill will to the F1 race. He wishes it all the best because what’s ultimately good for F1 will definitely be good for Las Vegas in the long run.
“I think to any community, F1 brings a worldwide following and passion about motorsports and here at our Speedway, we want to believe that anything that is good for motorsports in the Las Vegas community is good for our Speedway and it's good for the city,” Powell said. “So in that regard, we're fully supportive of Formula 1's presence here in Las Vegas.
“And I think it points up the enormity of what motorsports can do in a community. That’s something that we believe we've been doing now here for more than 25 years, because the Speedway was opened in 1996. So for more than a quarter of a century, motorsports has had a tremendous impact on Las Vegas just through our Speedway.
“But without question, Las Vegas is a destination city. And so when you sit back and think about it, it's hard to believe that it's taken Formula 1 this long to have made its way to Las Vegas.”
Although he will attend Saturday’s F1 Las Vegas Grand Prix race in theory as just a fan, Powell will still be keeping a watchful eye out on what happens both on and off the racetrack, to see what he can potentially learn from F1’s successes (and mistakes, if it makes any).
“We'll have some coattail benefit from it,” he said. “Primarily my joy in seeing this event come to town is just for the city itself, because we work throughout the year so closely with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority and we like to see this city succeed. And without question, Formula 1's presence is more proof that this city is such a world-class destination. And it will continue to be so in large part because of Formula 1’s presence. We know, in addition to NASCAR and NHRA, as well as the driving experiences we have here on the property, (having F1 in town) is good for everybody.”
In a way, LVMS helped pave the way for other professional sports to build a home in Las Vegas. Back in the 1990s, when LVMS was constructed, the city only had one minor league baseball team, a minor league hockey team and even played host for a year to a Canadian Football League team.
In other words, prior to LVMS being built, Las Vegas was nothing more than a minor league city sports-wise. But the Speedway’s construction, and the eventual addition of The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway dragstrip and the adjacent Bull Ring dirt track, showed that pro sports could not only survive in Sin City, but also thrive.
“I think the Speedway’s presence here and being able to bring NASCAR here proved to a lot of people in this community that major league sports could succeed here,” Powell said. “I'd like to believe we were the first major league sport that got here. And not only that we did succeed, but (attracting other sports teams and leagues) it has grown exponentially ever since after our arrival.”