America's Fantasy Island in the desert, Las Vegas specializes in the once-in-a-lifetime thrills of the internal-combustion variety.
Speedway Casino, 3227 Civic Center Drive, Las Vegas, NV 89032, Interstate 15 at Cheyenne Avenue/Exit 46; (877) 333-9291, www.speedwaycasino.com.
Billed as America's only "racing-themed casino," this desperate and sketchy little casino is a few minutes south of the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. A hilariously louche, beer-for-breakfast venue, the casino is ringed with some surprisingly good airbrushed banners of great racing scenes. Think of it as a halfway house between your gambling and gasoline addictions. For visitors who really want the vibe, you can stay in the adjacent Ramada Inn. All the rooms have clock radios!
Richard Petty Driving Experience, 6975 Speedway Blvd., Suite D-106, Las Vegas, NV 89115; (702) 643-4343, (800) 237-3889, www.1800bepetty.com.
The most successful drive-a-race-car operation in the country, the Richard Petty Driving Experience offers NASCAR fans the chance to ride shotgun in one of the company's custom-built stock cars or strap in behind the wheel for up to 40 laps (the Advanced Racing Experience, $2,999) around the speedway's 1.5-mile tri-oval. Even though the company's race cars are dialed back a bit from the current Nextel Cup cars, at 3,400 pounds and 650 horsepower, these are serious machines. When the racing series comes to Las Vegas, "Sometimes the king [Richard Petty] comes out here," says driving instructor Chuck Borden. "Just because he's old doesn't mean he can't wheel a car."
Freddie Spencer's High Performance Riding School, 7055 Speedway Blvd., Suite E-106, Las Vegas, NV 89115; (888) 672-7219, www.fastfreddie.com.
Add all the thrills of auto racing, and subtract two wheels. Three-time Grand Prix champion Freddie Spencer offers a variety of two- ($2,295) and three-day courses ($2,900) catering to the novice, to the experienced street rider and even to the hard-core race rider looking for a competitive edge. Mere civilians, however, will want to take the introductory Sport Rider/Street Rider Level 1 course. Rental leathers are available, but if you scuff them, you forfeit your $75 deposit.
Mario Andretti Racing School, 6925 Speedway Blvd., Suite C-106, Las Vegas, NV 89115; (877) 263-7388, www.andrettiracing.com.
The Mario Andretti Racing School builds its own full-size Indy-style single-seat cars, powered by 600-horsepower Chevy V8s with a single-speed gearbox, making them absolutely the world's baddest go-karts. In terms of max speed, this is the fastest thrill-seekers can go at the speedway. Participants in the World Champion driving course ($2,999) can reach speeds of 180 mph, depending on talent and the prevailing winds. The introductory qualifier course provides eight laps behind the wheel for a quite reasonable $399.
American Racing Academy, 7055 Speedway Blvd., Suite E-102, Las Vegas, NV 89115; (702) 643-2126 or (877) 463-7223, www.americanracingacademy.com.
Outside of gambling, there are few more surefire ways to blow wads of cash than to get into car racing. Ready to get started? Check out the American Racing Academy, also based at the Las Vegas speedway complex. Although the academy offers several half-day and full-day "experience" programs in sports cars and open-wheel race cars, the really bug-bit will sign on for the three-day Formula 2000 Program ($3,532 to $3,925), after which they will be licensed to race with the Sports Car Club of America, the largest sanctioning body in amateur racing. The big draw is the cars: full wings and slicks, 140-horsepower, real-time data acquisition and in-car radios.
Sun Buggy Fun Rentals, 6825 Speedway Blvd., Las Vegas, NV 89115; (702) 644-2855, www.sunbuggyfunrentals.com/lasvegas.html.
Need a little sand in your diet? Sun Buggy Fun Rentals (the company also operates in Pismo Beach, Calif.) rents one-, two- and four-seat buggies and all-terrain vehicles, taking excursions to nearby Nellis Dunes, the Valley of Fire and the Amargosa dunes. The most adventurous will sign up for the Mini Baja trip, a bone-shaking 90-minute tour of Nellis' rocky and rutted terrain. Full-face helmets are provided. The buggies are comfortable, safe and easy to drive, but a couple of hours in one will leave you feeling fully tenderized.
Dream Car Rentals, 3049 Las Vegas Blvd., Las Vegas, NV 89109 (across from where the Stardust used to be), (702) 731-6452; 3729 Las Vegas Blvd., Las Vegas, NV 89109 (next to the Harley Davidson Cafe), (702) 895-6661, www.dreamcarrentals.com.
Here in Vegas, it's not surprising you can rent an exotic automotive beauty by the hour. At Dream Car Rentals, you can go rollin'/patrollin' in a Ferrari 360 ($1,100 for five hours), a Corvette convertible ($289 per day), a classic '59 drop-top Cadillac ($325 per day), or even throw a leg over a Harley Davidson Fat Boy ($139 per day). With two locations for your fantasizing convenience.
The Auto Collections at the Imperial Palace, 3535 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; Las Vegas, NV 89109; (702) 794-3174, www.autocollections.com.
Across from Caesars Palace is the slightly faded Imperial Palace Hotel, where — on the fifth floor, no less — there is a vast automotive showroom. Once a car museum of about 250 cars, the collection was converted to a showroom in 2001, which is to say many of the cars are up for sale. The permanent collection includes Johnny Carson's 1939 Chrysler Royal Sedan, Howard Hughes' Chrysler with air purification system, and an assortment of grand era Cadillacs, Duesenbergs, Bugattis and Mercedeses. The cars on consignment are a rogue's gallery of the great and weirdly great. Want to buy the Ford Torino from the "Starsky & Hutch" movie? All it takes is money.
Fast Lap Indoor Kart Racing, 4288 S. Polaris Ave.; Las Vegas, NV 89103; (702) 736-8113, www.fastlaplv.com.
The only indoor kart track in town, Fast Lap is the place to bang around with your friends in raucous 200 cc go-karts on a tire-lined course laid out on an old warehouse floor. How quick are these karts? Everybody has to wear a helmet and a neck brace. Figure $25 for a 10-minute heat (members pay $18).
Gameworks Arcade, 3785 Las Vegas Blvd. S., Suite 010, Las Vegas, NV 89109; (702) 432-4263, www.gameworks.com.
Among the biggest arcades in town, if not the biggest, Gameworks specializes in driving games. They are all here: Daytona USA 2, Need for Speed GT, Ferrari 355 Challenge, Indy 500 and much more. The most exotic is a game called Cycraft, a virtual-reality capsule supported by overhead hydraulic booms to simulate the sliding and spinning out of driving game play. Better than on the track.