I arrived in Las Vegas on Wednesday morning-ish. I checked in at my hotel, ARIA Hotel & Casino at CityCenter. I am giving this hotel two thumbs up because when I opened the door to my room (that unlocked after only having to wave my room key in front of the keypad above the door handle) music began to play and the curtains pulled back on their own revealing floor to ceiling windows facing a skyline of mountains.
I’m not making that up. The curtains, television and all of the lights were all controlled by a touch-screen remote system. When I went to bed that night I didn’t have to get out of bed to turn any of the lights off or close the curtains. “The system” did it all for me. It could also turn on the “privacy please” light on the door, or request maid service for my room. “The System” knew my name, too. It was too friggin cool. I hooked up my iPod to it and felt instant bliss. I don’t feel like I’m putting too much on this. Between the lobby that smelled like my childhood — playing with My Little Pony dolls — to the amazing artwork and sculptures strewn about throughout, ARIA was a great experience. My king-sized pillow-top fluffy bed with 6 marshmallowy soft pillows was positively heavenly. If you ever have to go to Las Vegas for anything, stay at ARIA.
Although, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t have at least one bone to pick. Wi-Fi internet access was not free and at $15 a day there was no way I was going to pay for it. Later this month ARIA will begin charging a daily resort fee that will include Wi-Fi and other amenities, but your best bet is to head over to The Crystals, the super-duper high-end shopping mall next door to ARIA (think Louis Vuitton, Prada, Versace, Tom Ford, etc) and go to The Cup. It’s a coffee & espresso & gelato & sandwich shop that has FREE Wi-Fi. I went there everyday.
Okay, so on to the NASCAR stuff. I headed over to the Wynn, where EVERYONE was staying except me. Honestly, I stayed at ARIA because I had a deal that included a great room rate and a resort credit that I used to get my makeup done for the awards ceremony. But I digress, I took a cab to the Wynn to pick up my credentials for the week before I went over to Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the Chasers for Charity Fanfest shindig. The person who printed out credentials wasn’t there and just as I was finding this out I looked down at my watch and realized I only had 15 minutes to get myself over to Treasure Island to catch the LAST shuttle bus of the day that was taking people to LVMS. I walked as fast as humanly possible and got to the hotel just in time to make the shuttle!
Lucky for me, I was on the bus with three super nice NASCAR fans. Al & Shirley, a couple from Texas that celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary by driving to Daytona in July for the Coke Zero 400, and Gavin, a NASCAR fan from the United Kingdom who just happened to be in Las Vegas for his vacation and took advantage of attending as many of the Champion’s Week events as he could.
Once at the track I entered the Neon Garage, located in the infield of the track, where show cars were parked, Budweiser was serving beer and this awesome bundt cake franchise was passing out free samples of red velvet cake (yummy!). Larry McReynolds and Krista Voda were on the stage in the center of everything answering questions from the gathered fans. There were a lot of people, but not a TON of people, on hand. Most were crowded around the length of the red carpet that the drivers walked to get to the stage.
Because I didn’t have my credentials I had to find someone working the event that knew me and could get me in to the front of the stage area. Luckily I found Aubrey from Las Vegas Motor Speedway, we were on a panel together at Blog World Expo last year, and she got me in. I took pictures of drivers as they signed autographs for fans and tried to get shots of their clothes. This might sound odd, but it’s fun for me to see what they wear when they’re not in their firesuits, like Clint Bowyer in True Religion Jeans and Carl Edwards in his favorite tan corduroy sports jacket.
Immediately following their walk down the red carpet, all twelve drivers took to the stage for the playing of “Speedway Feud” a racing version of “Family Feud.” I could watch those guys play that game forever, it was really fun, especially watching their personalities beginning to surface (they REALLY came out at the After the Lap event the next day). My favorite question had to be “Which NASCAR driver would be most suitable to appear on The Bachelor?” The responses came from the fans and Kasey Kahne topped the list, with Dale Earnhardt Jr. coming in at second and I think Tony Stewart was third. The weird thing was that it took the guys from Denny Hamlin’s team like 3 or 4 answers before someone said Dale Jr. even though everyone in the audience was yelling his name.
Who won doesn’t really matter, but it ended up being Denny’s team of Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Clint Bowyer, Greg Biffle and Jeff Burton. For the “Fast Money” round–the final round of the game–they brought up a guy who was a serious Kevin Harvick fan and gave him the chance to win a dream race weekend at the next NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. It included garage passes and tickets to the race in March. Kevin Harvick went first and was able to secure the majority of the points the guy needed to win, so that when fan came back on stage to do his part he didn’t have to do to much. I loved that when the guy was asked why he was a fan of Harvick he said it was because he admired the partnership Kevin had with his wife DeLana and he felt he had the same kind of marriage with his wife. Very cool.
The final event was an auction of a jacket that had been signed by all 12 Chase drivers. Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin came up to help the host, comedian Kevin Burke, catch all of the bids from the audience. I don’t remember the final bid, but I know it went for more than a thousand dollars (maybe it was two??) to a woman sitting two rows in front of me.
After leaving the track, I went back to the Wynn to get my credentials where I inadvertently walked in on the production meeting for the awards banquet. It was kinda neat to hear them going over everything. It’s amazing how NASCAR and their broadcast partners pull off all of this stuff. The logistics of coordinating all of the events around Champion’s Week seems like craziness but they always come off without a hitch.
Once my credential was created and printed I walked back to ARIA from the Wynn. They’re only a mile and half apart and I wanted to save money and not take a cab, which worked out well except by, like, Thursday night I had (and still have) a blister on my right foot.
As soon as I got to my room it was time to change and get ready for the Evening Series event taking place at Lupo, a restaurant inside Mandalay Bay. The Evening Series event is always hosted by a famous chef and is attended by NASCAR drivers, sponsors and industry guests. It was at last year’s event that I got my photo with Carl Edwards (that has yet to be topped in it’s awesomeness).
This year when I walked in I was greeted by Wolfgang Puck himself. I was starstruck, I had a little story that I’d rehearsed in my head about having gone to his restaurant Spago in Beverly Hills once and it being the best dining experience I’d had to date, but I didn’t say any of that. Instead he said it was nice to meet me and asked where I was from. I told him and I think I said “thank you” a lot or something. He was so nice. I proceeded to grab a cocktail and then taste every single hors d’oeuvre that was passed around. There were crab cakes, swordfish, steak satay, short ribs on a polenta cake that tasted like a tater tot, eggplant, meatballs, tomato soup, pizzas and desserts like mini cheesecake, mini tiriamisu pie, and chocolate chip cookies. All of it was delicious.
Drivers filed in and I saw Kyle Busch, Greg Biffle, and Kurt Busch. While Kurt was chatting with Wolfgang I saw my opportunity to introduce myself to Kurt’s wife, Eva and told her I’d love to interview her sometime. She seemed open to it and told me to get in contact with their PR person. So hopefully that’ll come to fruition sometime soon.
That was it for me for the night. I grabbed a copy of Wolfgang’s cookbook on my way out, headed back to my room and played with the controls for the curtains.
The No. 99 Aflac Ford and No. 11 FedEx Toyota on display for the Chasers for Charity Fanfest inside the Neon Garage at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Wednesday, December 1, 2010.
The No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet
Larry McReynolds and Krista Voda
Denny’s team, Team 2
Jimmie’s team, Team 1
Jimmie Johnson helps auction off a jacket that was signed by all 12 of the Chase drivers.