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Parts made here, but racing is far away

Kelly Wilkin

A plethora of northern Nevada companies

specialize in making custom

after-market parts for high-performance

racing vehicles, but the presence of professional

auto racing here otherwise

couldn’t be more obscure.

Carson City is home to most of the

after-market firms. Accel, a major leader

in high-performance ignition devices;

United Engine and Machine, maker of

KB performance pistons; and T&D

Machine Products, which makes shaft

roller rocker arms that are often used in

drag or street performance race cars, are

just a few.

Bill Miller Engineering, another

Carson City-based operation, makes

forged aluminum connecting rods and

pistons. The company says Bobby

Labonte, the 2000 Winston Cup champion,

NASCAR’s 2002 Winston Cup

champ, Tony Stewart, and the late Dale

Earnhardt all have used its aluminum

pistons.

Northern Nevada is currently home

to about nine racetracks, most of which

are small dirt tracks as well as paved

facilities at Reno’s Desert Park and

Champion Speedway in Carson City.

But these courses are a far cry from

the massive 100,000-seat plus venues

that host races such as NASCAR’s

Winston Cup series, which brings one of

the nation’s most marketable professional

sports to 25 states around the country,

including Nevada.

“People in Vegas are interested in

money and tourism,” said Terry

McPherson, who sponsors nevadaracing.

com, a web site dedicated to promoting

auto racing in northern Nevada.

“They saw an opportunity to build a big

track one of the biggest on the West

Coast. They saw it as a natural, and

they welcomed it.”

And Las Vegas is laughing all the way

to the bank. According to the Las Vegas

Convention and Visitor’s Authority, the

annual UAW-Daimler Chrysler 400

brings about 135,000 spectators to Las

Vegas Motor Speedway, 79,000 from out

of town. The result was a $74 million

non-gaming impact for the area, up

nearly 50 percent from the $40 million

impact in 1998, the speedway’s inaugural

season.

It’s a mystery why northern Nevada

hasn’t jumped on the same boat,

McPherson added. He said Reno “seems

to shy away from [racing]” despite

potential good locations and enough

good weather to attract an annual event.

“Reno has a perfect location. There’s

no track in northern California, Oregon,

Utah or Idaho,” McPherson said. “The

tracks in southern California, Phoenix

and Vegas are all fairly close to one

another. If we had a race we could get

fans from at least six states.”

But support for a racetrack in northern

Nevada has been less than overwhelming.

The public staunchly rejected a proposal

to build a track near the airport in

Stead because of worries about crowds

and traffic, said Laura Tuttle, manager of

planning for the City of Reno’s community

development division.

The same neighborhood, however,

hosts the annual Reno Championship

Air Races, which brought over 220,000

people to the region in 2002 as well as

hundreds of high-flying aircraft buzzing

over spectators and communities.

“A professional race track [in Stead]

would have a negative impact on residents’

quality of life due to increased

traffic from the large numbers of people

over short periods of time,” Tuttle speculated.

“I guess they’re just used to the air

races.”

The crowds that follow NASCAR

bring cash.

According to Firestone Langhorne, a

Washington, D.C. sports marketing

firm, 85 percent of NASCAR fans have

a high school diploma and have attended

some college.

Seventy percent have annual incomes

ranging from $30,000 to $50,000; 62

percent are married; 72 percent own

their own residence and 72 percent are

employed full time.

The Reno Sparks Convention and

Visitor’s Authority, whose mission statement

is to promote business and tourism

throughout Washoe County, doesn’t have

an official stand on bringing a racetrack

here.

An RSCVA spokesman said the

organization doesn’t want to bank money

on special events “that can’t guarantee

longevity or produce visitors,” opting to

go for more convention business.

According to the RSCVA’s 2001 marketing

report, conventions that year

accounted for over 335,000 room nights,

a 6 percent of the total room nights

available in Washoe County in a year. If

a NASCAR race attracting 79,000 visitors

was scheduled in the region, that

would account for nearly 2.5 percent of

the county’s annual room nights.

RSCVA officials also noted that they

would need to secure a deal with a sponsor,

and the sponsor would have to guarantee

television coverage as well as a certain

number of fans.

According to a NASCAR report, the

average 30-second television spot during

a NASCAR race sells for $100,000. The

National Broadcasting Company, Turner

Broadcasting and FOX paid $2.4 billion

for six years of broadcasting rights of

NASCAR events. Some 72 percent of

NASCAR fans are loyal to their team’s

brand. Major League Baseball, the

National Basketball Association and the

National Football League can only

muster up around 40 percent brand loyalty.

And NASCAR fans are willing to

pony up to support their favorites.

Action Performance Companies, Inc.,

the leading designer and manufacturer of

licensed motorsports merchandise,

reports its profits increased $83.5 million

in 2002 to $406.9 million that’s up

nearly 20 percent from the previous year.

“I think racing is still trying to shed

its redneck image,” Jeb Onweiler, the

new general manager at Carson City’s

Champion Speedway. “That’s totally

erroneous. It’s all about family entertainment.”