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Dedication pays off for locals with truck debut

Justin Johnson never gave up on his dream to compete in one of NASCAR’s three national touring series, even as he struggled to find financial support a couple of years ago to race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway’s Bullring.

That perseverance will pay off today when the 25-year-old makes his first start in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Phoenix International Raceway, along with Vision Aviation Racing teammate Dusty Davis.

The Las Vegas natives, who moved to Charlotte, N.C., a couple of months ago, cut their racing teeth at the Bullring.

"I never gave up on the dream; that’s why I’m here," said Johnson, runner-up for the Bullring’s Super Late Model championship twice.

NASCAR did not allow the two to compete in last week’s series opener in Daytona Beach, Fla., because neither had enough experience to run on the 2½-mile oval. Johnson will compete in the remaining 22 races and contend for top rookie honors.

Davis, 18, will compete seven times this year, with plans to race full time in 2012. He will drive for the No. 15 team that Michael Waltrip used to win Feb. 18 at Daytona. Davis was a champion go-kart racer before moving to oval tracks four years ago.

"It’s been a long road but a fast one," he said of his NASCAR touring series debut. Among Davis’ truck races this year will be the Oct. 15 Smith’s 350k at Las Vegas.

Other Las Vegans in today’s 5 p.m. race include Brendan Gaughan, who returns with Germain Racing to the series in which he has won eight times, and Kyle Busch, who will compete for his Kyle Busch Motorsports team, which won last year’s series owners championship in its inaugural campaign.

■ NASCAR COUNTDOWN — The biggest sports weekend of the year in Southern Nevada opens Wednesday and Thursday nights with World of Outlaws and IMCA Modified races on the speedway’s dirt track. Racing begins at 7 each night.

An added bonus at the speedway this year will be free NASCAR Nationwide practice and autograph sessions Thursday, with access into the Neon Garage. Practice is scheduled for 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 3 to 5 p.m.

The autograph session will run from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. Drivers scheduled to participate are Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne, Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Mark Martin, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Danica Patrick, Justin Allgaier, Elliott Sadler, Kenny Wallace and Steven Wallace.

■ DEATH — Veteran Bullring racer Ray Hooper Jr. died Saturday after a lengthy illness. A memorial service will be at 10 a.m. Sunday at Palm Mortuary, 6701 N. Jones Blvd.

■ DESERT RACING — Steve Olliges and Jonathan Swift combined to win the Unlimited Truck title in last weekend’s SNORE Battle at Primm desert race in Primm. … Jesse Jones won the overall title Saturday in the Best in the Desert’s Parker 425 in Parker, Ariz.

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