Jim Baker's Then and Now


There is no question about The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway being the premier drag strip in the Western USA! And now in 2018, the track will offer four-lane racing, becoming the second such emporium to do so. Both four-lane tracks are owned by Bruton Smith and they are highly successful.


Back in the ‘70s, drag racing in Las Vegas was held at the Las Vegas Speedrome which drew good crowds but was a poor cousin to the big operations in California. All that changed in the early 2000 era when most Cal tracks closed and Mel Larson teamed with Las Vegas investors and Bruton Smith to build the drag strip at the Motor Speedway complex.


Mel passed away last year at the age of 87, but he left behind a legacy of building many impressive projects. In 1962 he opened Arizona Raceway (which became Speedworld) North West of Phoenix, AZ. The ’62 AHRA Winternationals were held there, drawing enormous crowds. Mel envisioned a total motorsports complex much like LVMS. He ran out of funds necessary to complete the project and was recruited to move to Las Vegas in 1971. There he created the Mint 400 off-road race. Moving to the Circus Circus, Mel really hit his stride, promoting the CC and growing their number of hotel rooms six times over. Next he directed construction of the Colorado Bell in fast growing Laughlin. After that he was integral in the planning and construction of Excalibur, Luxor, and finally the Mandalay Bay Hotels & Casinos.  After Bill Bennet sold the CC Company to MGM, Mel persuaded him to invest in the struggling LVMS project. Through his earlier friendship with Bruton Smith, Mel found the added funds to complete the project Las Vegas casino style.

Danny Topol is shown above being towed to the pits after a run at the Street Car Super Nationals held at LVMS during November, 2017. Topol fits the ‘Then & Now’ criteria for my column. A life spent in Las Vegas found Dan racing at the Las Vegas Speedrome as a young man back in the late ‘80s. From that humble beginning, the idea of the WCHRA (West Coast Hot Rod Association) was born. By 2009 Danny owned one half of the new group and obtained full ownership in 2015. He joins a list of many entrepreneurs who have made Las Vegas their headquarters. Mel Roth and Phil Painter are two others who currently stage events at the Dragway. Roth did live in LV and operate his Premier Street Car Association from LVMS. He has now expanded east and lives in Denver. He still stages a large show each year at the track. Phil lives in Mesa, AZ, and owns a number of car dealerships throughout the West.


Phil & Jill Painter’s (Muscle Cars at the Strip) is a giant meeting of Factory Hot Rods, formerly known as Mopars at the Strip. They maintain an office in the LV area of Summerlin on Rampart Ave. Dates for the MCAS this year are April 27-29.


Kyle Seipel, now the Manager of Sonoma Raceway in California and his partner Peter Biondo, present a giant payout bracket race at Las Vegas. The Spring Fling is one of three huge payout races promoted by the well-known duo!

In my first column on LVMS, way back in 2010, I mentioned the prowess and success of local (Henderson) favorite, Justin Lamb. As you can see in the above photo, Justin has remained successful and won $3,000 in May 2017. But that was just the start of a great season. The former Jr. Dragster Champion claimed two NHRA National Sportsman titles at the end of the 2017 season!

Another Las Vegas winning racer is Dick Kreiger shown to the left (or above). Dick has deep roots in the past as the ‘bracket terror’ of OCIR in the ‘70s.  Lately he has won several thousand dollars at LVMS. Dick is no longer the young FED driver he was, but he still knows how to win with his American Dream roadster!

And a real piece of Las Vegas history is shown above featuring a young Ken Black accepting a trophy for winning his class at the Stardust Raceway in the ‘60s.


Ken and George Marnell, two building contractors in Las Vegas, started racing Pro Stock in 1998. In fact, Marnell won two NHRA national events. In 2000, George gave up driving to their crew chief, Greg Anderson.  The KB stable of Pro Stock racing has grown into Las Vegas’ most successful racing enterprise, winning six National Season Championships and many individual titles. The KB team is based in Mooresville, NC, to be closer to many NHRA events; but Ken still builds homes and lives in LV.

We chatted with Greg Anderson and his crew chief Rob Downing, relaxing in their golf cart prior to test runs at the WHP Pro Test Session. He was down to earth and indicated their car was just so-so. When the testing was done, however, they were number two in Pro Stock.

The World Famous Las Vegas Motor Speedway – Drag Strip, will host more than 40 events during 2018! Following are a few which we feel might attract many of our DRO readers:


Denso NHRA Nationals – 4 wide   April 6 – 8

Spring Fling Million     April 17 – 21

Muscle Cars at the Strip    April 26 – 28

WCHRA ‘The Battle’    June 1 – 2

Toyota NHRA Nationals    October 25 – 28

Street Car Super Nationals #14   November 14 - 17


The facility is managed by the capable Jeff Foster. His crew is on target and has stayed together for some time. The Las Vegas Track has won seven consecutive ‘Track of the Year’ awards from NHRA.

Another Pro Mod style car from Nevada is this turbocharged Pontiac Firebird based in Winnemucca. The car, driven by owner Ben Wilkinson, raced at the SCSN just two weeks after appearing at Danny Topol’s ‘Duel’ held at Tucson Dragway. True to its name, the car is powered by a twin turbocharged Pontiac motor.  The above photo is from Mel Roth’s wild and wooly Street Car Super Nationals held annually at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Making Las Vegas history is Ken ‘DAK’ Spears! His ’48 Chevy truck looks fast with the big air foil in the rear; and it really is fast. Ken recently traveled to Wild Horse Pass Raceway near Phoenix, Arizona, for Steve Barcak’s Nostalgia Reunion and won an Eliminator Bracket.  The ‘wheels up’ photo above is by Brad Baker at Mel Roth’s SCSN.


With the local track operating so efficiently it creates more and more interest in drag racing at all levels. At press time, we noticed the following Las Vegas area racers in action at Wild Horse Pass during the Lucas Oil Drag Racing series in NHRA Div. 7: Top Alky/FC Nick Januik; SS/KA John Irving; SS/LA Jon Irving; GT/NA Larry Maxwell; F/SA Earl Blake; F/SA Jesse Loeffler; D/S Andy Kimball; B/SA Roger Hall; EF/S Skip Loeffler; TS Bart Smith’ TS Glen Copley; TD Jack Sadler; and B/T Randy Goff.


A turnout like this at a track nearly 300 miles away, speaks highly of the current program at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. If you travel to LV and take in all the wonders it offers, make time to go way out north on the Las Vegas Strip and see Bruton Smith’s world class emporium of speed. You won’t be disappointed. Remember the first four-wide NHRA race west of the Mississippi River is coming April 6 -8!


Until next time, Be On Time. 



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