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Walmart chairman sees potential for Speed Week

Rob Walton and Sir Stirling Moss headline a buzzing Paddock Club and agree an official race track would ‘make it that much better’
  • Rob Walton, right, the chairman of Walmart, has a laugh with fellow entrant Bill Pope, left, outside the Paddock Club on Sunday. - Jason McDowall

NG Business Editor

Published: Dec 05, 2011

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The chairman of the largest retail chain in the world thinks Bahamas Speed Week (BSW) has potential for growth.

It just needs one crucial element to gear up – an official race track.

“The organizers did a great job and there is a lot of learning involved when putting on an event like this,” said Rob Walton, the chairman of Walmart.

Wearing a hat, racing shoes and an aero-dynamic suit peeled down to his waist, Walton, estimated to be worth approximately $21 billion, was undoubtedly the biggest name in business at BSW.  Although the crowds were rather sparse in the general admission areas, the Paddock Club was a hive of activity as community leaders established a corporate presence, chatted with the international crowd and watched million-dollar cars zoom around the track near a gorgeous ocean backdrop.

For Walton, he chose to bring a 1958 Maserati 450S – a car that was actually raced in Nassau during the original Speed Week in the 1950s and 1960s.

“When I heard about the event I wanted to support it,” he told Guardian Business.

“Proximity wise, it makes a lot of sense.  We put the cars on a pick-up and drove them to the ferry, and here we are.  It wasn’t much more difficult than a U.S. venue, really.  I think the event has more potential in America going forward.  This is the first event and exposure is the real challenge.  It’s just a matter of exposure, and adding a track will make it that much better.”

In September, Guardian Business spoke with Jimmie Lowe, the president of BSW, about the prospect of building a more permanent home for an annual event.

He said talks are ongoing with the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture and the Ministry of Tourism to achieve this goal.

Last month, in the lead-up to the weekend, Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace, the minister of tourism, offered his full support.  Charles Maynard, minister of youth, sports and culture, officially announced that BSW would become an annual event.

The original Speed Week, running from 1954 to 1966, featured a permanent track on Oakes Field and attracted some of the biggest names of the day in racing.

More than 40 years since his last race in Nassau, Sir Stirling Moss, the legendary race car driver, also sat down with Guardian Business in the Paddock Club.

Sir Stirling, dressed in a white BSW shirt and black, slip-on shoes, was busy all weekend making appearances and signing autographs.  On Saturday, during the gala banquet and auction of promises, more than $50,000 was raised for local charities.  Sir Stirling offered his services to drive two lucky bidders around the track a few times – each paying $4,500 for the experience.

“They paid quite a lot of money and I hope to give them a good ride,” he added.

“I want to go out and see where the circuit goes, and see where the corners are.”

As the patron and main celebrity draw for BSW, Sir Stirling agreed with Walton that the event has great potential for the future of Nassau, both in terms of tourism and bringing international business players to the country.

He also highlighted the need for a permanent home for BSW.

“They are going to build a circuit,” Sir Stirling said.  “It could be worth an awful lot of money to this place.  You could bring the press down to drive the cars, set up driving schools, invite more companies to participate.

“If it’s a decent circuit, the event will be more of a success.”

He also felt the event, with a full circuit, could focus a bit more on racing and having more cars participate at one time, rather than having many of them sitting idle under a tent.

But for Sir Stirling, he told Guardian Business his racing days are more or less over.  More than 40 years later, the 82-year-old legend now has a different role at BSW, although no less challenging.

“It is quite hard work this time around, but I enjoy the hard work,” he said.

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Last Updated on Monday, 05 December 2011 14:26

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