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Why Las Vegas is Now Gearhead Heaven

Everyone knows Las Vegas as a place to gamble, hear a concert, writhe at a nightclub or get hitched in a quickie ceremony officiated by “Elvis”. But in the last decade or so, it’s also become a major destination for gearheads….and the friends and family who put up with them.

Speed is the primary lure. Vegas is a city that celebrates the “vroom vroom” impulse at several different venues, the most iconic of which would be the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. A host of NASCAR, along with a number of other races, it’s considered the most important track in the American Southwest. But amateurs don’t have to content themselves with just sitting in one of the 135,000 stadium seats—they can get into the driver’s seat here for a zoom around the fabled track. Outfits like The Richard Petty Driving Experience (www.drivepetty.com; [tel] 800/237-3889),  Dream Racing (www.dreamracing.com; [tel] 702/605-3000) and Exotics Racing (www.exoticsracing.com; [tel] 702/405-7223) give instruction on how to drive safely at extreme speeds, and then set participants loose in either a Nascar-style car or a Ferrari, Porsche, Lamborghini, McLaren, you name it (it varies by company and by personal preference). The experience doesn’t come cheap, but bliss rarely does. The Motor Speedway is at 7000 Las Vegas Blvd. North.

Nearer to the Strip is SpeedVegas (www.speedvegas.com; 702/874-8888), a 1.5 mile Formula One-inspired track where, after a short lesson, anyone with a drivers license can take their pick from a number of muscle cars and exotic “super cars” for a tire squealing peel around the track. This experience costs $49-$89 per lap, depending on the car, season and time of day (that rate is roughly equivalent to what’s being charged by the schools above, though most of them require a minimum of 6 laps, which makes the overall experience pricier).  This facility is at 14,200 Las Vegas Blvd South.

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Prefer Go Karts? The 200cc Honda motors at Fast Lap Indoor Kart Racing (4288 Polaris Ave; www.fastlaplv.com; 702/736-8113; $25 per race) can get up to 50 m.p.h., meaning this attraction ain’t for little kids (drivers have to be over 5 feet tall, with minors accompanied by adults). Pole Position Raceway (4175 S. Arville Rd. www.polepositionraceway.com; 702/227-7223. Adults 56 in. or taller $25.50, kids 17 and under or 48 in. and taller $22) is the competing facility in town, though its carts go a hair slower as they’re not gas powered (but that also makes them much quieter). No bumping allowed at either—though people do so all the time.

The most unusual driving experience may well be Dig This! (www.digthis.com; 888/344-8447 or 702/222-4344; admission $169 and up) which involves participants learning how to use an actual bulldozer or excavator, and then undertaking a series of hole-digging and rock moving challenges. Yes, it’s a sand pit for adults…but who’s judging? You’ll find the facility at 3012 Rancho Dr. (between Meade and Sirius aves).

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And for the simple appreciation of iconic hunks of metal, there’s the Shelby American Heritage Center (www.shelbyamerican.com; 702/942-7325; free admission). It was Carroll Shelby who perfected the American muscle car, and you’ll see the first Cobra roadster CSX2000 Shelby ever built, along with cherry Mustangs and other beauts. The excellent 90-minute tour of the facility (including the modification shop that turns fast cars into greased lightening) is also free. The museum is right across the street from the Town Square shopping complex at 6405 Ensworth St. (at Sunset Rd.).

(Photo by 88th Air Base Wing Public Affairs Photostream)

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