Friday, Feb. 26, 2010 | 2:04 a.m.
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The bright lights of the Las Vegas Strip served as a backdrop Thursday evening for NASCAR's Hauler Parade to help kick off a weekend of races at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
The parade of roughly 60 haulers — large semi trucks that carry the race cars and gear to the track — started on Las Vegas Boulevard at the South Point and traveled north on the Strip to Sahara Avenue. The parade headed west on Sahara to Interstate 15 and north to the speedway.
A group of passionate fans lined the Strip at various locations to get a glimpse of their favorite driver's hauler. Hundreds of fans, most with a camera in their hand and several with a beer, cheered loudly while the hauler drivers honked their vehicle's horns in appreciation.
"This was definitely worth showing up early for," said race fan Patrick Gibson of Omaha, Neb., who was stationed across the street from the Luxor. "These race teams are so supportive of their fans. They realize the sacrifices we have to make to attend the races and give us our money's worth."
The parades are conducted in several cities where NASCAR holds races. But no setting resembles the madness that is the Strip. Sure, towns like Bristol, Tenn., virtually shut down for the pre-race parade, and seemingly the entire town lines up to get a glimpse of the trucks.
But none of that compares to parading past casinos such as the Bellagio and Mirage. Several non-race fans enjoyed the show, too.
"This is something you don't expect to see in Las Vegas," said Malissa Thompson, a tourist from Montana. "I don't have interest in racing, but you can't help enjoying this. It's a free show."
The parade included haulers from racers competing in Saturday's Nationwide Series race — the first time they were included in the parade's four-year history.
The hauler from Las Vegas native Brendan Gaughan's team led the parade, which is fitting because the Gaughan family owns the South Point, where the parade started. Gaughan is 28th in points on the Nationwide series.
Some of the largest cheers came for defending four-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson's hauler. Several of the hundreds of fans sported hats, shirts and other gear of their favorite driver.
"This is a sport where you can pick one driver and root for them out of 43 drivers every year," said Darrek Dever, a fan visiting from Colorado.
Locals also made the trip to the Strip to get a glimpse of the action. Fathers brought their sons, while others used the parade as a cheap date.
"The drivers are just really personable and easy to root for," said Rick Salby, a Las Vegas native and Jeff Gordon fan. "We have a lot of race fans here in Las Vegas. Definitely more than you would think."