Las Vegas Sun

May 2, 2016

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Weekend Wrap: NASCAR, Great Santa Run, Mandarin Oriental, Robin Williams, Rock and Roll Marathon


Denise Truscello/WireImage

Lhotse Hawk, Tony Hawk, Jimmie Johnson and Kara DioGuardi attend the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion’s Party at Lavo in the Palazzo on Dec. 4, 2009.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Party @Lavo

Lhotse Hawk, Tony Hawk, Jimmie Johnson and Kara DioGuardi attend the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion's Party at Lavo in the Palazzo on Dec. 4, 2009. Launch slideshow »

Mandarin Oriental Opening Night Gala

Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group Executive Richard Baker, chef Pierre Gagnaire, Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas General Manager Rajesh Jhingon and Sylvie Gagnaire attend the opening night gala for the Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas at CityCenter Dec. 4, 2009. Launch slideshow »

2009 Great Santa Run @Town Square

Kyle Busch and Oscar Goodman at the 2009 Great Santa Run at Town Square on Dec. 5, 2009. Launch slideshow »

2009 Rock 'n' Roll Las Vegas Marathon

Kenyan runner Caroline Rotich becomes the first woman to cross the finish line at the 2009 Rock 'n' Roll Las Vegas Marathon on Dec. 6, 2009. Launch slideshow »

NASCAR’S top drivers said their first-ever Champions Week in Las Vegas, after years of being in New York City, was the best ever. They told me that they hope the event stays on the Strip for many years to come. I’ve learned that it will definitely be here for at least another two years. The victory lap with the Top 12 racers, including Jimmie Johnson, on the Strip was incredible.

At the official black-tie awards dinner in the Wynn, Jimmie Johnson was crowned four-time consecutive champion of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Our Monte Carlo headliner Frank Caliendo hosted the night, which included entertainment from Brooks & Dunn, David Gray and John Pinette, all broadcast for Speed TV. After the formalities, it was time for the drivers to party, and they know how to do that!

They took over Lavo in the Palazzo about 10 p.m., and the dancing was still going strong as dawn broke at 6 a.m.! Jimmie celebrated his world record with stunning wife Chandra, who wore a one-of-a-kind, one-shoulder ruche dress designed by Isaac Mizrahi. Guests were greeted by a 4-foot ice sculpture that encased Jimmie’s car number, 48. Skateboard legend Tony Hawk with his wife Lhotse, Heroes’ Masi Oka and My Name Is Earl’s Nadine Velazquez were among the fans who enjoyed Lavo’s signature sliders and four cheese pizzas in the restaurant before heading up to boutique nightclub, where Samantha Ronson was on DJ duty behind the wheels of steel.

American Idol judge Kara DioGuardi was in a banquette alongside her new hubby Mike McCuddy and me and even danced atop it. Kara, who was spending her birthday weekend at Lavo, said she is excited to have Ellen DeGeneres join American Idol and had had their first lunch together earlier in the day. Mike and she were very affectionate and held hands throughout the night. Also there was Aubrey O’Day, who came directly from her Peepshow performance after the earlier Mandarin Oriental gala opening. Upon entering the party, Aubrey tried to lick the ice sculpture for the photogs!

The celebrations continued throughout the weekend with Jimmie, Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin and World Series New York Yankees pitcher Joba Chamberlain in the Hugh Hefner Sky Villa at the Palms. Driver and off-road racer Robby Gordon kept up the party pace at Carey Hart’s Wasted Space in the Hard Rock Hotel.

Mandarin Oriental Gala Opening

It was one of the swankiest gala parties ever thrown in Las Vegas, and the formal affair matched the elegance and sophistication of the new Mandarin Oriental hotel at CityCenter as it celebrated its opening. Vegas DeLuxe attended the Taiko drummers, red ribbon-cutting ceremony and Feng Shui harmonizing earlier in the day.

You know it’s my kind of party when 400 bottles of Dom Perignon are uncorked for the 500 influential guests, politicians, and VIPs. They also had 4,000 handmade chocolate truffles to serve from an exclusive chocolate room filled with every confection of the stuff you could imagine.

When world-renowned pop rock violinist and Mandarin Oriental fan Vanessa Mae ended her performance with a standing ovation, a snow geisha appeared on the ballroom balcony, and an artificial snowstorm was set off to close the party in its own Winter Wonderland.

Great Santa Run @Town Square

Regret to report that our 5th Annual Great Santa Run did not recapture the world record back from Ireland, although we did beat out rival city Liverpool. We posted a GSR story and sneak peek photos shortly after the race. The official Guinness World Record count came in at 8,868 participants, even though nearly 15,000 race bibs had been distributed. Prams and dogs were not put into the equation, even though they were dressed in Santa suits. Liverpool fielded a little more than 7,000 Santas.

NASCAR champion Kurt Busch and Mayor Oscar Goodman, both dressed in Santa suits with appropriate Santa showgirls as arm charms, helped start the race. Kurt, the Great Santa Run grand marshal who lives here, won two NASCAR races this season and placed fourth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rankings. He partnered with PT’s and Sierra Gold owned by Golden Gaming to sponsor the run, and together they donated $20, 000 to the charity that serves people and families coping with severe intellectual disabilities.

Opportunity Village’s Linda Smith told me: “The 5th Annual Las Vegas Great Santa Run was a tremendous success, and we are so grateful to everyone who participated! The sea of red and white flowing through the streets of Town Square was such an impressive sight, and the fact that everyone came out to support the men and women at Opportunity Village just proves that the holiday spirit is alive and kicking. We want to thank our tremendous major sponsors and our dear friends Mayor Oscar Goodman, Zowie Bowie, Drzhivegas, Santa Claus -- and you too, Robin. We’ve already begun planning for next year’s Las Vegas Great Santa Run, and we’ll be looking to add even more Santas to the mix.”

Las Vegas Rock and Roll Marathon

Five years ago when the very first Las Vegas Marathon was run, only 30 people showed up for the night-before pasta bulk-up party. This year, some 2,000 runners were on hand at Mandalay Bay for the first Las Rock and Roll Marathon with a total of 28,000 runners, more than double last year’s field.

At our pasta party and in the race were 210 Elvis Presley marathoners and 85 couples who planned to go through the run-thru wedding chapel set up at the Paris. Twelve of the couples were actually exchanging marital vows, while the others were renewing them. It was the largest turnout of any Elvi running group at any rock and roll marathon. One running group consisted of 70 Canadians who’d flown to Las Vegas for the event.

Event organizers couldn’t have been happier and are predicting that next year’s marathon could top 35,000 participants. It will continue to grow bigger and better, and they’re predicting that within five years, it will be the largest marathon in America.

Robin Williams @MGM Grand

It was a remarkable performance of comedic genius. It was all the more remarkable because for Robin Williams, it was the final stop of an 80-city tour that was interrupted with him undergoing open-heart surgery. His Weapons of Self-Destruction wrapped over the weekend at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

Earlier this year in Florida, he had to postpone dates after being hospitalized, but he vowed to shuffle them to fulfill his commitments. Las Vegas became his final stop.

Robin had the sold-out house in hysterics from start to finish. Robin simply didn’t stop, and this was far more than laugh-a-minute humor, this was a punch line every 10 seconds! How he managed to do 90 solid minutes without a stop was a medical miracle in itself.

Backstage, the 58-year-old superstar told me: “I’ve never felt better. This was a great show here tonight, the best of the entire tour. I love playing Vegas, and it’s great to have been able to change the dates and include it on the tour as the last stop.”

I told him he’d never looked so good -- fit and young all over again. He explained that he’d undergone replacement of an aortic valve with a cow’s valve at the Cleveland Clinic after he’d had trouble breathing while on tour in Florida. His brother Robert died in 2007 from a similar heart surgery. He admits that he, too, dodged death, and he’s now, after another rehab stint, in his own way is telling people not to become alcoholics like he was.

Robin’s recuperation took three months and time on a treadmill, swimming laps and learning how to pace himself again onstage. “I’m more emotional than I’ve ever been, for some strange reason,” he chuckled. “It was a terrifying experience. I woke up wondering where I was. The recuperation wasn’t easy. I told myself I had to keep going, but learned I had to take it slower. You do learn to appreciate being able to breathe! I can joke about it now and I’m proud I am back able to do standup, but no bicycling up to Red Rock on this visit.”

If you missed the Weapons of Self-Destruction show, you can catch the HBO special filmed at Washington, D.C., Constitutional Hall stop last month tomorrow.

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground. Read more of Robin's stories at

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