11/02/1981 at 01:00 AM EST
The Vegas scene was many a mile from Rio, Monaco and other fabled Grand Prix pit stops, yet the championship had come to this, a 75-lap race in the parking lot at Caesars Palace. In truth, it was a bit grander than that. A specially built $6 million, 2.2-mile track had been laid out. But the surface was so new that the city's taxi drivers were invited out early in the week to drive the course at high speeds and "lay rubber" on the macadam. On Saturday, with more than cab fare at stake, Aussie Alan Jones took the race.
The night before the engines roared, drivers and celebs enjoyed a high-octane party, officially begun when Paul Newman made his entrance through an $18,000 laser-lighted and fog-filled tunnel. Catherine Bach had chartered a jet from L.A. to make the party. Also bellying up to the beluga caviar and chomping on pieces of cake in the shape of a Formula One racer were Ben Vereen, Robert Culp, Bill Cosby, Rich Little, color commentators Jackie Stewart and Mark Thatcher (son of British Prime Minister Margaret) and ex-Hardy Boy Parker Stevenson, who could barely throttle his enthusiasm. "I love racing," he gushed. "The electricity is unbelievable. The energy is there, like intensely."
As Tom Jones sang, a jealous Wayne Newton wondered, "How does he get those women to throw their underwear onstage? All I get is roses." Paul Newman was the star attraction in this racy crowd, but he shunned the limelight, the sunlight and the light of photographers' strobes. "They want me to take my glasses off to look into my blue eyes," he moaned. "What would happen if they turned brown or green? It's like asking a girl to take off her bra."
After the race, workmen returned the parking lot to its usual self. The track will be rebuilt next year, when they'll all go vroom again.