Vegas Voices is a weekly question-and-answer series featuring notable Las Vegans.
Whenever you visit Glittering Lights at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, odds are you’re too busy gawking at the more than 3 million lights or trying to avoid rear-ending the car in front of you to think about what happens with the $20 to $30 per vehicle entry fee.
Paulette Anderson, director and sole employee of the Las Vegas chapter of Speedway Children’s Charities, never forgets. A portion of each ticket sold goes to the nonprofit, which has awarded more than $2.5 million in grants since it was founded in 1999, including $243,000 this year.
“We want to make sure the person who’s filling out the grant is asking for something that is going to directly support the children,” Anderson says. “So we don’t pay for salaries, we don’t do scholarships, we don’t do capital campaigns. It has to be something that directly affects the children.”
Glittering Lights, which runs through Jan. 7, is the organization’s biggest fundraiser of the year. A close second is the “Ride of a Lifetime” auction during NASCAR week for fans to bid on the chance to ride in the back of a pickup with their favorite driver during race-day introductions. “Racing fans,” she says, “they just want to give back.”
Anderson, 51 — or, as she puts it, 49 + 2 — grew up in Baltimore and moved to Las Vegas at 23 when her father retired and her parents relocated to the valley. Her first professional job was with Easter Seals Society of Maryland, and she worked for the American Cancer Society for 16 years before coming to Speedway Children’s Charities five years ago.
Anderson took a few moments to talk about what Glittering Lights means to the charity, where the money goes and what it’s like going to work at the speedway every day.
Review-Journal: Were you a racing fan before this?
Anderson: I was aware of racing and the importance of racing around the country. I always had heard about NASCAR, but I had never been to a race. … They hired me because I had a background in fundraising.
R-J: Are you a racing fan now?
Anderson: Now? I’m learning as I go along. I’m learning that there’s a lot of wonderful, generous people. And I am a fan. Of course I’m a fan.
R-J: Who’s your favorite driver?
Anderson: Well, I tend to like Kurt and Kyle Busch, just because they’re from here.
R-J: So what’s it like having an office at the speedway?
Anderson: It’s a whole different world. And then, just being at the speedway in general, with the speedway and we have the Bullring and the drag strip, I don’t really hear the sounds anymore. You know, if I’m on the phone, when I walk out of the building, someone will say, “Where are you?” And I don’t even realize it. I think it’s neat when it is race time, and the way my office faces, through the window, I can see the RVs coming that people will come and camp out in (for) a week.
R-J: How much of your annual fundraising comes from Glittering Lights?
Anderson: This past Dec. 6, we gave away $243,000 to 57 children’s charities, and $84,000 of it came from Glittering Lights’ donation to us last year. So, it’s huge. It’s huge, huge, huge.
R-J: And then you’re gearing up for Laps for Charity on Jan. 29. How popular is that? Because it sounds very cool.
Anderson: It’s very cool, indeed. In the past, we’ve had more than 800 vehicles come out. They basically go around the speedway three laps for a ($35) donation to the charity, and then we have what’s called a rebuy, so if they have had a great time, which they have, they will come around for a smaller ($25) donation, we let them go another three laps.
R-J: So how else do racing fans contribute?
Anderson: The Sunday of (NASCAR week), we do what’s called the Track Walk. Only for fans, you have to have a ticket. It’s a small donation of $35, and people have the opportunity to walk (a lap) on the speedway. Last year was one of our biggest years, we had maybe 700 to 800 people out there. It’s great just to watch everyone. They like to sign the start/finish line with Sharpies.
R-J: What’s the one thing you’d like people to know about Speedway Children’s Charities?
Anderson: I would love for people to know that all the money that’s raised here stays in the valley. There’s one staff member, myself. That’s how you keep your expenses low. I rely on volunteers, whether it’s the board of trustees, office volunteers, interns from the university. All the money stays local. So we collect the money, and we give it all away to various children’s charities throughout Southern Nevada. … I don’t want people to always think you have to be a race car fan to support the organization. We want anybody who wants to help a child in need, this is the organization to support.
Contact Christopher Lawrence at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @life_onthecouch.