Stardust International Raceway

Motorsports Meets the Mob in Vegas, 1965–1971


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About the Book

Professional motorsports came to Las Vegas in the mid–1950s at a bankrupt horse track swarmed by gamblers—and soon became enmeshed with the government and organized crime. By 1965, the Vegas racing game moved from makeshift facilities to Stardust International Raceway, constructed with real grandstands, sanitary facilities and air-conditioned timing towers. Stardust would host the biggest racing names of the era—Mario Andretti, Parnelli Jones, John Surtees, Mark Donohue, Bobby Unser, Dan Gurney and Don Garlits among them.
Established by a notorious racketeer, the track stood at the confluence of shadowy elements—wiretaps, casino skimming, Howard Hughes, and the beginnings of Watergate. The author traces the Stardust’s colorful history through the auto racing monthlies, national newspapers, extensive interviews and the files of the FBI.

About the Author(s)

Randall Cannon is a freelance writer and lifelong motorsports enthusiast. He lives in Henderson, Nevada.
Michael Gerry is a race vehicle constructor and has worked on several championship drag racing teams. He resides in North Las Vegas, Nevada.

Bibliographic Details

Randall Cannon and Michael Gerry
Format: softcover (7 x 10)
Pages: 429
Bibliographic Info: 290 photos (27 in color), notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2018
pISBN: 978-1-4766-7389-9
eISBN: 978-1-4766-3291-9
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments viii

Preface 1

Introduction: The Play: Joseph Smoot’s Vision and Vice Bring Professional Motorsports to Las Vegas 3

One—Trifecta: Three to Go at Las Vegas Park Speedway 15

Two—The Street: Roots of Racing in the Las Vegas Valley 42

Three—Sawdust Joint: Industrial City Drag Strip, 1958–1961 68

Four—Wild Card: Henderson Dragway Becomes Thunderbird Speedway, 1961–1962 97

Five—Discard: Thunderbird Loses Its Thunder, 1962–1964 125

Six—Carpet Joint: The Gravel Road to Stardust International Raceway 152

Between pages 170 and 171 are 16 color plates with 27 photographs

Seven—High Roller: Moe Dalitz Bets Large 171

Eight—Doubling Down: Stardust Adds a Strip 190

Nine—Outside Bet: Welcome the ­Can-Am Series 219

Ten—Full House: Stardust Fills Its Slate 242

Eleven—Numbers Racket: The Cashiering of Stardust International Raceway 278

Twelve—Capped Bet: Racing into the Shadows 314

Thirteen—Down to the Felt: The Far End of Stardust International Raceway 345

Chapter Notes 371

Bibliography 380

Index 385

Book Reviews & Awards

  • “Meticulously researched and documented, this treasure trove of civic history is far more than a chronicle of the sports-car, open-wheel stock car, and drag-racing spectacles in the 1950s and ’60s”—Competition Plus
  • “The authors have uncovered voluminous sources and written about [Stardust International Raceway] in astonishing detail. For anyone who has an interest in Las Vegas history, especially the deeply buried past, or the history of motorsports in general, [this book] is a real find”—Las Vegas Advisor
  • “Thoroughly researched and a good read, this book casts a spotlight into the darkness behind the bright, loud, gaudy scenery that we fans of auto racing normally see. For us, a weekend at Stardust was about speed, sleek cars, fast racers and (as some might have hoped) racier women. But a few of those other characters we passed in the pit lane without a glance? Author Cannon tells us who they really were, and about their unsuspected roles backstage. Wow!”—Pete Lyons, motorsports photographer, author of Riverside Raceway: A Photographic Tour
  • “Randy Cannon chronicles, in graphic detail, the rise and fall of big-time auto racing in ‘Vegas. How strange bedfellows (mobsters, corporate hucksters and hinky politicians) brought racing to center stage then cut its throat.”—Pete Ward, editor Drag Racer Magazine
  • “The Stardust is an important part of the history of Las Vegas, gambling, and organized crime, but there’s still a lot for us to learn about it. Randy Cannon has given us a great look at a part of the Stardust and Las Vegas experience that has long needed more attention.”—Michael Green, University of Nevada-Las Vegas, consultant to and appeared on A&E’s Making of the Mob
  • “The iconic superstars of racing rubbed fenders with the promoters of Stardust International Raceway. These promoters were just as noteworthy, serving as front-runners for organized crime, unintentionally making the name ‘Stardust’ synonymous with mob control!”—Jeffrey A. Silver, former member, Nevada Gaming Control Board.