Las Vegas: Lots of glitz, almost no glitches

Back in 1980, I went to the very last NASCAR year-end banquet that

was held at the Plaza Hotel in Daytona Beach, Fla. What NASCAR used

to do was hold the banquet the week leading into the Daytona 500. I

have to tell you, it was pretty cool seeing it as it was my very

first banquet.

The next year, the banquet was moved to the Waldorf=Astoria

in New York City. It made a tremendous amount of sense to move it

there. Our sport was growing in leaps and bounds. Corporate America

and the majority of the advertisers were located there. My wife and

I had probably attended 75 percent of the banquets there.

But to be honest, in the last four to five years, I noticed

things were getting stale and we had probably run our course there.

It became increasingly expensive to go there. We literally out-grew

the Grand Ballroom at the Waldorf. NASCAR even tried moving it one

year to another location in New York but that didn’t help much.

Now I know that moving the banquet to Las Vegas for the first

time last week brought with it a tremendous amount of apprehension.

We in NASCAR are creatures of habit. We have been going to the

Waldorf for 29 years. So human nature is to resist change.

On the other side of that coin is excitement. I was very

excited that NASCAR made the switch. I looked forward to the

banquet again because it was new and fresh. I’ve always loved going

to Las Vegas anyway, so that was just an added bonus.

After Friday’s banquet, I really believed they knocked it out

of the park. One of the dramatic differences I saw was that the

city of Las Vegas embraced the banquet. That was something that we

had lost in New York. I just thought Friday night’s deal was one of

the coolest experiences. I honestly don’t know if you gave them 12

more attempts, whether they could have made this first one any

better than it was.

Obviously no one knows what the future holds. There is a lot

of speculation that once the NASCAR Hall of Fame opens next May

that the banquet could possibly move there. I just don’t know about

that. I don’t know that having the banquet where everyone in the

sport lives would be that exciting.

I personally think they found the perfect place to hold the

banquet and that is Las Vegas. I’d love to see us go there for the

banquet at least as long as we did going to New York.

If I had one thing I want them to look at for next year it

would be the complaints I heard from our East Coast fans regarding

the starting time. Because Las Vegas is in the Pacific Time zone, I

think they need to look to start the banquet earlier in the day.

That way it would be more balanced for everyone in the country,

particularly the East Coast viewing audience. Unfortunately a lot

of folks didn’t see Jimmie Johnson’s acceptance speech because it

was 1 a.m.

The other really cool thing that happened was for the first

time in the history of the NASCAR awards banquet, fans were allowed

to attend. That was very cool because, let’s face it, our sport is

all about our fans. Without them we are nothing, so it was very

cool for them to be a part of the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup Banquet.