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The Grand Tour

It’s no secret to any serious drag race fan that the 1999-2000 off- season was a tough one for the sport in the board room. Rob Vandergriff’s Jerzees backing — gone. The Gwynns’ Mopar Deal — gone. The Interstate Batteries deal that backed Tommy Johnson Jr. — gone, and gone, and gone it went.

However, there was one team over the winter which got a big deal going: the Kalittas of Ypsilanti, Michigan. As anyone who witnessed the NHRA Winternationals can tell you, the Kalittas gained the backing of the largest hotel in the world, the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. It’s parent company is the MGM movie studio.

The MGM Grand is so big it can almost claim cityhood status. This palace boasts over 5,000 rooms with a cool 93 elevators to service customers who enjoy entertainment in luxurious splendor, so much so that the light bill alone is $500,000 a month. If there are wonders of the world for the United States, the MGM Grand would rate high on the list.

Doug Davenport, Kalitta Motorsports Sponsor Relations boss and the man who put the deal together, remarked, “The MGM Grand’s trademark is ‘The City of Entertainment,’ which is not some idle boast, but an actual description of the hotel. If you wanted to see and experience everything the MGM Grand has to offer, you couldn’t do it in a weekend. Plan on setting aside four to five days to take it all in.”

For Connie, Doug and Scott Kalitta to take it all in, the 43-year-old Davenport had to endure what was probably one of the busiest six-month stretches of his life. During September of last year, Connie, a two-time IHRA Top Fuel champ, Michigan Motorsports Hall of Fame member, and one of the great drag racers of all-time, told Davenport that he knew some guys at the hotel and it might be worthwhile to give them a call. Davenport made that call and on October 2nd, Davenport and the hotel’s marketing people had the first of 25 meetings towards the race-car sponsorship.

“At our first meeting, I came in with a big dollar proposal,” said Davenport. “I am a big believer in the numbers and also consider myself an idea man, plus I really do love drag racing. I think the MGM point people liked what they saw, but they said it was too late in the year to make any big sponsorship commitments. We agreed to meet again and that was all the encouragement I needed. As far as Kalitta Motorsports was concerned, Connie told me that if I had some ideas to go for it and present them to the hotel people.”

Over the latter half of the year, Davenport pitched the proposed deal as a win-win situation. The demographics showed that drag race fans would be great customers for the hotel. Souvenirs, die cast models, racing apparel and other racing paraphenalia would be placed in the hotel as well as at the various race sites. Fan programs involving the hotel would be a natural. Davenport figured — the movie pull, the shows, the gambling, the music, how could anyone not be lured by those amenities?

MGM Grand management had been looking for entry into the high-speed, jet-setting world of auto racing and the Kalitta deal looked good.

“When you think about it, it really was a natural,” Davenport recalled. “As one example, the MGM Grand draws roughly 14 million people a year. If two percent bought race souvenirs, we’re talking about six million dollars in that venue alone.”

At 2:30 p.m. on January 12, MGM Grand President / Chief Operating Officer Richard Sturm attended the final meeting and gave Davenport the news he wanted to hear. He said the upper echelon at the hotel said the Kalitta program was a go and to make it happen.

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