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AUTO RACING PACKAGE: Ride in tank simulator wins over casino chief

October 1, 1997 GMT

LAS VEGAS (AP) _ It took a ride in an Army tank simulator to convince casino chief William Bennett that he could re-create the excitement of an Indy race at his Strip resort.

Now, a group of charities will be at least $1 million richer when celebrities join race car drivers Oct. 10 at the new $15 million Speedworld attraction at Bennett’s Sahara Hotel.

``I’m told by the Indy drivers that it’s just like driving an Indy car,″ Bennett said as he watched workers put the finishing touches on his new project.

Danny Sullivan, the 1985 Indianapolis 500 winner, agreed.

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``This is as close as you can come without doing the real thing,″ Sullivan said during a break in the taping of an instructional video for wanna-be drivers who climb into the cockpits of the realistic, three-quarter-size Indy cars. ``This gives the public as close a sensation of driving in an Indy race as you can get without being out there.″

Bennett, co-founder of Circus Enterprises _ the company that created the shift to family entertainment in Las Vegas _ was approached by Illusions Inc. about a new virtual reality race-car simulator patterned after training systems used by the military.

Told that the simulators had the same technology as those used to train tank personnel in the Gulf War, Bennett flew to Fort Knox, Ky., with Illusions executives. He climbed into one of the tank simulators, took a drive, then signed a deal with the Westlake Village, Calif., company to build his race-car operation.

The Sahara Speedworld will be the first in the world with the new virtual reality race cars, said Peter Beale, Illusions chairman and chief executive officer.

``We’ve created a real training simulation experience similar to a helicopter or airplane,″ he said.

At the opening of the attraction, drivers will pair up with celebrities such as Paul Anka and Rita Rudner in a series of races, with winners splitting $1 million from The Bennett Foundation to give to their favorite charities. In addition, Bennett said he will match any other contributions made by the drivers and celebrities.

When the attraction opens to the public later the same day, novice drivers will find themselves whipping around one of two courses at simulated speeds up to 238 mph in a virtual-reality environment.

Drivers can choose one of two simulated courses _ the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, of which Bennett is part owner, or a Grand Prix race along the Las Vegas Strip.

Covering an area the size of a football field, Speedworld will include 24 race cars moving on hydraulic platforms, each fronted by a screen of the race course they choose.

Drivers will have to deal with 160 dynamics, such as worn tires, hitting a wall, blowing a tire or being bumped by a competitor.

Speedworld is part of a $100 million renovation at the venerable Strip resort.

``Everybody needs some type of attraction to draw people because the town has become so competitive,″ Bennett said.

End Adv for Thursday, Oct. 2