Vegas starts its engine

NASCAR's Sprint Cup Shelby American

By Jamie Helmick

Unless you’re Kyle Busch, you’re probably not ever going to experience the thrill of breakneck speeds, fast-paced action and the checkered flag waving on the horizon from the driver’s seat of your very own stock car.

But, with NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Shelby American and Nationwide Series Sam’s Town 300 races coming to Vegas Feb. 26 – 28, you can experience it in your own way. Sin City offers up several different options to show your NASCAR stripes, before, after and during the races.

As Junior Johnson, who will be greeting fans at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway all weekend, said, “While NASCAR may have its roots in the southeast, the sport has always had a strong following in the western part of the country.”

We’re here to prove it. Read on to keep your vacation from crashing and burning:

To Do

Pole Position Raceway

Pole Position Raceway

To get your weekend started off on the right note — meaning one that’s a little bit adventurous and a lot time-saving, catch a NASCAR helicopter flight. Instead of waiting in traffic, fly right in as helicopters depart from Las Vegas and drop you at the Speedway throughout the day on Sunday — giving you more time for pre-race festivities.

If you’re itching to put pedal to metal in a vehicle that may have been used by Kevin Harvick, Travis Pastrana, Al Unser Jr. or Kyle Busch, check out Pole Position Raceway — a favorite for professionals like those or just folks looking for a little adrenaline.

Using racing karts with around 18-horsepower and the capability to go up to 45 miles per hour, Pole Position Raceway houses a quarter-mile European-style track with straightawaways and hairpin turns.

Racers can see their name on a huge screen above the track and check their progress relative to the other contenders. After it’s all over, a scorecard breaks down your splits and speeds for you — and shows exactly who among your friends is the fastest. If you grab a prize beforehand, you can have your own little Vegas Cup race.

For those that prefer to watch cars instead of drive them, Imperial Palace’s Auto Collection, located on the fifth floor of the hotel’s parking structure, is a display like no other, housing more than 300 cars, including racing cars, muscle cars and touring roadsters.

Plus, just a little bit down from the Imperial Palace is the Venetian and Madame Tussauds. Stop in to get your picture taken with a wax likeness of Dale Earnhardt — and get ready for a ton of Facebook comments.

To Eat

Nascar Cafe at Sahara

Nascar Cafe at Sahara

As Richard Petty and his Cheerios box would tell you, making sure you get a good meal is key and there’s no better place to eat your fill on race weekend than the NASCAR Café inside the Sahara.

The restaurant is massive, with NASCAR memorbilia, including items worn and used by some of NASCAR’s top racers, as well as a Pontiac Gran Prix stock car designed by Dale Earnhardt. Plus, an expansive TV and sound system means if there’s action to be seen, you won’t miss a second of it.

Portions at the NASCAR Café are huge and could definitely keep you full through hundreds of laps. The menu includes American favorites like barbeque and burgers, but also gets a little more adventurous with items like a six-pound burrito.

You read that right, at six pounds and almost two feet long, the NASCAR Café’s B3 (big, badass burrito) and the challenge surrounding it, is like the Daytona 500 of eating. The burrito’s $20, but if you finish the whole thing, it’s free and you get a lifetime pass on the Sahara’s roller coaster, Speed – The Ride. Pace yourself though, or three pounds in you’ll spin out and never catch back up.

While you’re at the Sahara, don’t miss the Las Vegas Cyber Speedway, a simulated race car game that’s not quite the real thing, but still pretty darn fun.

If you’re on the other end of the Strip and hungry, stop into Harrah’s. Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar’s got great food, strong drinks and we’d be willing to bet that you’ll be able to find more than a few people to talk race predictions with.

To See

Madame Tussauds Las Vegas

Madame Tussauds Las Vegas

You’ll catch a sample of his work if you’re attending the race on Sunday, but Terry Fator is more than just the guy singing the national anthem. The former America’s Got Talent winner has set up shop at the Mirage and, since you can’t watch cars all the time, why not check out his show? Fator’s pretty confident that the two pair well.

“I believe that my fans and NASCAR fans are one and the same, so it is a match made in heaven,” Fator said. “I grew up in Texas, so you know I’m a NASCAR fan!”

If the song selections from Fator’s show have put you in the mood for some country, check out the tribue show, “American Superstars” at the Stratosphere — it’s not actually Tim McGraw and Carrie Underwood singing, but after a long day at the speedway, you’d never know.

To Celebrate

Whether your driver won or you’re just happy to be here, there are plenty of places in town to get your “boogity, boogity, boogity” on.

At Stoney’s Rockin’ Country, you’ve got a little bit country, a little bit rock ’n’ roll, and a lot of non-stop good times. Whether you’re riding the mechanical bull, dancing, bowling or just taking advantage of the amazing draft specials, Stoney’s is the spot for post-race festivities.

For action all in one place, check out Town Square. Upstairs there’s Cadillac Ranch, which houses another mechanical bull and is filled with TVs and good food. Downstairs, Yard House keeps more than 100 beers on draft and the bar area is surrounded by TVs to make sure you don’t miss a minute of NASCAR coverage.