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When you think of sports in Las Vegas these days, hockey is probably the first thing that comes to mind, followed by basketball.
But there IS a history of motorsports in Las Vegas but like so much of early Las Vegas - it has mob connections.
Randy Cannon and Michael Gerry layout that connection in their new book: "Stardust International Raceway.”
The raceway, which was located off of what is now Rainbow Boulevard between Tropicana Avenue and Flamingo Road, was created and developed by Moe Dalitz, the legendary mob figure behind the Desert Inn and the Stardust.
Cannon said Dalitz developed the raceway along with a group of partners under the Stardust Racing Association title.
However, Cannon said the raceway was like a lot of other properties in Las Vegas at the time. It was used by people connected to the mob who were unable to get a gaming license as a way to legally conduct their business.
Cannon said people know mobsters were skimming the counting rooms at casinos like the Stardust and the Desert Inn, but there was a lot more going on at the time that few people know about.
“I think it was many times more complex than that and it involved these phantom pieces of property where people would do their real business and where the real ownership stakes in these casino properties were really bought, sold, traded, leveraged,” he said.
For example, when the raceway was closed and the property was sold. It was sold to a corporation that was the first publicly traded company to own a casino.
Cannon said some of the earliest wheelers and dealers in Las Vegas were involved in the development of the raceway, its closure and ultimate transformation into Spring Valley.
When the raceway closed, there was still drag racing out there until - like so many other places in the city - suburbs took over.
“But as Spring Valley development continued, publicly racing there no longer made sense. It was just too close to suburbia at that point,” he said.
The raceway wasn' t the only place for motorsports in the valley. The horse track that once sat where the Westgate is now, held an Indy race in the 50s, Cannon said.
“That was the first premiere-level professional sports events here and it was literally held on a one-mile dirt oval where the Westgate now stands,” he said.
To race on the dirt track, Indy cars would be fitted with dirt tires and gravel guards. The 1954 race was the finale and championship of the Indy season.
Motorsports has never really left the Las Vegas Valley. The Las Vegas Motor Speedway hosts two NASCAR events a year. NASCAR holds its award show in Las Vegas every year with a parade of cars, drivers and trailers down the Strip to kick the weekend off.
And the legendary Mint 400 ran in Las Vegas from 1967 to the late 80s. It was revived in 2008 and will be run this year in March.
Randall Cannon, co-author, "Stardust International Raceway: Motorsports Meets The Mob In Vegas, 1965-1971"
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