Wednesday, Sept. 11, 1996 | 11:59 a.m.
The big marquee at the big Las Vegas Motor Speedway, like a lot of amenities at the sprawling 107,000-seat racing facility, isn't quite finished yet.
But if it is lit by Sunday's inaugural running of the Indy Racing League Las Vegas 500K, the marquee will feature a bonus marquee name.
Robby Gordon, who is leaving IndyCar racing to compete on the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit next year, has been assigned to drive the Walker Racing entry in this weekend's race.
A spokesperson at the team's Indianapolis race shop on Tuesday confirmed that Gordon would be the man behind the wheel.
The car, a 1995 Reynard-Ford listed as the Valvoline Cummins Craftsman Special, is the same one Mike Groff drove in last May's Indianapolis 500, with the exception of the number. It will carry No. 50 in Las Vegas, instead of No. 60.
Gordon, who finished a dis appointing 18th in final IndyCar points, has a strong Las Vegas following based on his off-road racing exploits over the years.
Gil de Ferran will replace Gordon at Walker next year, when the team will have the coveted Honda engine at its disposal for the first time.
* THE RACING LINE: The Las Vegas 500K officially become a legitimate event Tuesday -- at least by local standards -- as Leroy's Race and Sports Book released its opening line for the inaugural event. Series co-champion Scott Sharp, last month's New Hampshire race winner, was made the 3-1 favorite, followed by Buzz Calkins (the other co-champ) at 7-2 and Indy 500 polesitter and rookie of the year Tony Stewart at 4-1. The remaining drivers and their opening odds are as follows: Arie Luyendyk, 9-2; Eddie Cheever, 6-1; Buddy Lazier, 8-1; Roberto Guerrero, 8-1; Richie Hearn, 10-1; Mark Dismore, 12-1; Mike Groff, 15-1; Michele Alboreto, 15-1; Eliseo Salazar, 18-1; John Paul Jr., 20-1; Robbie Buhl, 20-1; Stephan Gregoire, 30-1; and field (all others), 15-1.
* NEW CARS UNVEILED SATURDAY: The IRL will unveil its new Dallara and G-Force chassis during a special presentation at the MGM Grand Saturday night. The new cars, which will be powered by nonturbocharged Oldsmobile and Nissan 4.0 liter V8 engines, will be cheaper but slower than the current cars, which for the most part are year-old CART Indy cars. Pole speeds at the Indianapolis 500 are expected to drop from the 240-mph range to roughly 220 mph. But with a targeted price tag of $263,000, the new cars will be roughly 33 percent cheaper than state-of-the-art machinery utilized on the CART IndyCar circuit. An IRL press release terms the new, less technical cars a "next-generation cousin" to exisiting Indy cars.
* MUSEUM PIECE: Las Vegas race fans on Sunday will be able to see the man who won this past May's Indianapoils 500 but not his winning car -- unless they've got friends in high places. The No. 91 Hemelgarn Racing/Delta Faucet Reynard-Ford that Buddy Lazier drove to victory at Indy has been retired, but will be the centerpiece of the Delta Faucet hospitality tent. The faucet company will host a huge gathering of Southwest-based plumbing professionals and distributors for the race weekend.