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Singing for stock cars

Before the gentlemen start their engines for the Boyd Gaming 300 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, before the announcers tell TV viewers to “crank it up” after coming back from a Chevy commercial — even before Kyle Busch makes another driver mad by passing in a place where one is not supposed to pass — somebody must first sing the national anthem.

Then, and only then, is it OK to go Boogity, Boogity, Boogity.

Somebody also must learn how to pronounce Dylan Kwasniewski’s name before driver introductions, but that’s another story.

Instead of letting Rusty Wallace’s niece or somebody like that sing “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the Las Vegas Motor Speedway folks (and KVVU-Fox 5) hold a competition for locals, mostly because the speedway people are always trying to do stuff for locals. This is especially true during a soft economy when gas prices are high.

This is the sixth year that LVMS has held auditions to sing the national anthem before the Nationwide Series race. Not once has Michael Waltrip’s team been accused of manipulating the outcome.

Exactly 80 singers began lining up outside the Dauphine ballroom in The Orleans’ conference area at 6 a.m. Saturday for auditions that began at 10. By 9:45, many of the hopefuls were oh-say-can-you-seeing before being sent down the hall.

Getting sent down the hall is sort of like getting sent to the NASCAR hauler. Except you don’t get fined.

They make you sit in these chairs outside Salon 1, the audition room, before you go in to perform, a cappella, in front of five judges. You can hear the (singing) engines roar inside Salon 1, because the walls in those salons are pretty thin.

This might have been why Hannah Strande’s knees literally were knocking. She is only 18, a freshman at UNLV. No, she said, she has never sung in front of five judges, much less 90,000 people from the southern states and a few carloads from St. George, Utah, which is what the Nationwide Series race at LVMS usually attracts.

I went into Salon 1 when it was Hannah Strande’s turn. She sang like a bluebird.

Hannah had number 014 on her placard. Number 015 was John Bruce, 43 years old. Bruce owns a local bakery for dogs, called Three Dog Bakery, and used to fly airplanes, called Airbus 320s.

Bruce taught NHL veteran Rod Buskas how to fly the big birds when Buskas played for the Las Vegas Thunder. That sort of led to Bruce singing the national anthem at Thunder games, and at 51s games at Cashman Field. I think his ability to hit the “money note” at the end in a rousing fashion also may have had something to do with it.

“ … and the home … of the … B-R-A-A-A-V-E!”

Bruce’s robust singing voice rose to a thunderous crescendo. Had this been old Maple Leaf Gardens instead of Salon 1 at The Orleans, I would have bodychecked the person sitting next to me straight into the boards.

His rendition of the anthem deserved airhorns and a capacity crowd. John Bruce was the guy the Flyers would have called to sing “God Bless America” when Kate Smith was busy.

I was not in the back of the room when it was Yeke-Yeke’s turn to sing. Yeke-Yeke originally is from Hungary; she calls herself a boxer-singer, in the manner of the great Joe Frazier. There’s even a photo of Yeke-Yeke and Smokin’ Joe on her website.

Yeke-Yeke says she also is a designer-seamstress, so Down Goes Frazier on that one.

Yeke-Yeke sang the anthem out in the hallway. She has a much stronger voice than Pia Zadora. She got around 90 percent of the words right, too, which is like 90 percent better than I could have done with “Himnusz,” the Hungarian national anthem.

I figured the judges might mark her down for not knowing all the words. But she was wearing a tiger hat and a leopard jumpsuit, and it was zipped down strategically. Very strategically. So if they brought in the male judges toward the end, she should have little trouble advancing to the semis.

I was sort of hoping there would be a Carl Lewis or Roseanne Barr among the group, or that Carrot Top might show up, because Carrot Top almost always shows up at events such as these. Some of the singers were better than others. But virtually all could sing.

It wouldn’t surprise me that when they start calling people back for final auditions that three of the first ones notified are Malia Olds, Cat Rian and Siena Paglia. These young ladies are students at Coronado, Foothill and Bishop Gorman High who harmonize and call themselves Sugar Stack.

They wore cowboy boots and denim jackets and these aqua-colored frilly dresses that you might see on one of those Country Music Television videos. The judges seemed quite enamored of their harmonized voices, and of their smiles and matching outfits.

On the way out, I bumped into Yeke-Yeke once more. She was nervous about having to sing the national anthem from the middle, to save time, per the rules. I told her I was in the room, and that a young girl sang it from the top and the judges didn’t mark her down.

Just in case they did, I thought about asking Yeke-Yeke if she knew how to pronounce “Kwasniewski.” Instead, we chatted about the Gabor sisters, and agreed that even the great ones have to start somewhere.

Las Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.

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