Art Sellinger ascends the stairs underneath Section 309 of the Dale Earnhardt Terrace in Turn 4 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. As he reaches the top step on this late September afternoon, he’s greeted by bright sunshine, a cloudless sky and an unobstructed, panoramic view of the Strip to the south framed by a sea of red, white and blue grandstands. This postcard moment is the precise reason Sellinger thought this massive superspeedway would serve as the ideal backdrop for his driving competition—his long-driving competition. As in, long-driving a golf ball.
Odd as that sounds, it’s coming in the form of the RE/MAX World Long Drive Championships on October 30, when eight of the world’s biggest hitters will launch balls from an elevated tee box built into the Earnhardt Terrace stands in a winner-take-all, $250,000 made-for-TV competition.
“I could’ve made this work with a mobile tee at Sunset Park, but that’s just another soccer field or football field with stripes,” says Sellinger, who was born and raised in Las Vegas, played golf at Chaparral High School and UNLV, and is a member of the Las Vegas Golf Hall of Fame. “This is kind of where speed meets speed—cars go around this track at 200 mph, and these guys make the golf ball go almost 220 mph. There has never been a venue like this in which to hit a golf ball, and I think it’s going to make it memorable.”
A former two-time national Long Drive champion himself, Sellinger has been championing the niche sport for nearly two decades. He co-founded Long Drivers of America back in 1994 and two years later made Mesquite the home of the annual World Long Drive competition, which draws players from 30 countries. This year, though, Sellinger—looking to generate more attention and revenue—wanted to follow up the qualifying in Mesquite with a splashy, Vegas-style championship event. So after securing a sponsorship from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, Sellinger went searching for a unique venue to stage the finals.
Initially, his mind’s eye turned to Las Vegas Boulevard: “I had my heart set near the old Frontier Hotel site on the Strip, which would be just across from Encore.” But he quickly deemed it logistically and financially impractical. Then one day on a drive back from Mesquite, he made a left at the speedway, caught his friend Kevin Camper—an executive at the speedway—in his office, and pitched “a crazy idea”: Set up a makeshift tee box hundreds of yards from the speedway’s grass infield and have the final eight competitors take aim at the 50-yard-wide, crescent-shaped turf. All the while, invite a crowd—admitted free of charge—to cheer loudly from the stands as a DJ spins behind the golfers, and broadcast the whole deal live on national TV.
The speedway signed off on the idea. So did the Golf Channel.
Now all that’s left is for the golfers to put on their aerial show—and for Mother Nature to cooperate. Which brings us back to Section 309, and the only blemish on that otherwise picturesque afternoon: wind. Serious wind. Like 40 mph-plus wind, the kind that could torpedo Sellinger’s big night. “I pray every night for 72 degrees and not a breath of wind,” he says. “I grew up here, so I know at this time of year it can blow 40 mph like today. But I know it can be good, too.”
He takes off his cap and rubs his head. “This is a huge risk—a multimillion-dollar night for me. I hope it works. But I can only control so much.”