CONCORD, N.C. -- It is a weird anomaly that Las Vegas, known for gambling and glitz and not as a grooming ground for people who drive fast in circles, has more than twice as many drivers at NASCAR’s top levels as the state of South Carolina, once a hotbed for all things stock car.
Their names are Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Brendan Gaughan, Spencer Gallagher and Noah Gragson. In this particular week and in this awful circumstance, Las Vegas is especially glad they call the city home.
When bad things happen, good people step up. Spurred by Gallagher, a regular in the Xfinity Series, NASCAR’s Vegas natives have started a fund-raising drive to help victims of Sunday’s mass shooting. Information can be found at www.driversforvegas.com.
Although the Vegas drivers departed for the Carolinas to search for success in NASCAR, the shining city, one Gaughan calls the greatest on Earth, remains bedrock for them.
For the millions of tourists who flock to Las Vegas every year, it’s a destination for fun and frolic, a spread of neon and concrete that exists only to entertain and to exchange a lot of dollars – usually from your hands to theirs – in the process.
Most visitors rarely give a thought to the fact that it’s also a town where people raise families, take their kids to school, work jobs that often are menial and try to build a future, all in the shadow of monster hotels/casinos and outside the sparkle that is Vegas for so many.
“It’s a unique city,” said Gaughan, whose family owns South Point Hotel, Casino and Spa in Vegas. “It’s really a small community, especially those born and raised there. It’s a tight-knit group in a relatively small area.”
When tragedy struck Sunday night in the shape of a madman with an arsenal, people with Las Vegas connections responded in the same way they might have if they were from Dubuque or Austin or Phoenix. The first question: Is anyone I know hurt?
“Fear is the first thing,” Gaughan said. “Then, the ‘what friends were, what friends weren’t’ checklist. Who was and who wasn’t there. My initial thoughts were that I have a lot of nieces and nephews that go to these things.
"I woke up at 4 that morning to my wife being very upset. Then I noticed I had 95 text messages. I called my brothers and made sure none of my immediate family was involved.
“Then, life has to go on. It’s Monday morning. Kids have to go to school. I have to go to work.”
Gallagher had similar concerns. He said his girlfriend often works at music festivals similar to the one in Las Vegas, but he verified quickly that she wasn’t there.
The first thing – you find out your people are OK. Then you try to understand what happened and why, which, in this case, appears increasingly impossible. Then, if you’re in a public position such as professional athlete, you try to do something – anything. That anything could be everything to people who need help.
As Gaughan and Gallagher talked about it Saturday, the pain in their eyes still was evident.
“This is always going to be very solemn work, but it does warm my heart knowing we’re able to do something and really leverage the unity that the NASCAR community has to help out my hometown and to do what right we can in the face of this tragedy,” Gallagher said.
“It does make me feel a lot better to say that I stood up and did something about it. I didn’t just ‘hashtag thoughts and prayers.’ ”
On the newly blood-stained ground of Las Vegas, their work blends with that of others to lift community over chaos.
Follow Hembree on Twitter @mikehembree