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NASCAR driver treats total strangers to ‘unforgettable experience’

When David Ragan recently announced his retirement as a full-time NASCAR competitor, it didn’t exactly cause a seismic shift in big-time stock car racing, the way it did when Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart called it quits. The news was mostly limited to the sports briefs.

But heading into Sunday’s South Point 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, there’s a lot more to the affable 33-year-old from little Unadilla, Georgia, than what is revealed in the point standings.

When Ragan said he would be reducing his schedule to spend more time with his family, a lot of racing people said nice things about him, or shared a story about what a nice guy he is.

Such as this one told by Jeff Gluck, who covers auto racing for The Athletic.

Gluck was in town for the January 2018 NASCAR tire test at LVMS when he put out a tweet asking if any of his Las Vegas followers would like to meet him for dinner.

Three responded. As did Ragan.

The driver of the No. 38 Front Row Motorsports Ford suggested the writer and his posse join him and spotter Rocky Ryan at Ferraro’s Italian Restaurant and Wine Bar on Paradise Road, which was owned by a casual friend of Ragan’s.

The three Las Vegas fans — Gluck referred to them as Hunter, Bruce and Jose — didn’t spend a dime.

No RSVP required

“I saw on social media that Jeff Gluck was going to meet up with some NASCAR fans before the test,” Ragan said via cellphone before leaving for Las Vegas today via Toronto, where he was to discuss a potential road racing opportunity in a Ford GT. “A lot of times on race weekends we’re so busy with sponsor and team commitments that we don’t have extra time to spend with the fans.

“So the test was a good time to catch up and make small talk with NASCAR fans about the cars and the series. It was fun.”

It was more than that for the fans.

“What happened that night was intimate,” said Jose L. Acero Jr., one of the Twitter followers who agreed to meet Gluck, only to be greeted by a surprise guest. “It was funny, because you would think the fans would flood David with questions when it was the other way around. An experience I will never forget.”

Wrote Gluck: “Ragan told us what it was like to be in the middle of a three-wide pack at Talladega. Ryan told us about his days as Ward Burton’s spotter. The fans told us about why they liked certain drivers, and which races were on their bucket list.

“I kept peeking at Bruce and Hunter and Jose, and it was so cool to see them smiling and soaking up the experience. Ragan and Ryan spent 2 1/2 hours at the dinner and could not have been nicer.”

Ragan asked for nothing in return, Gluck said. It was just a night in Las Vegas that turned out way better than expected.

So let the record show that Ragan has driven in 460 NASCAR Cup Series races, winning two. And let it also show that on a brisk January night in 2018, he provided three racing fans from Las Vegas he had never met with a night and a story and heaping portions of gnocchi, chicken marsala and calamari they’ll not soon forget.

Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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