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Speed demons: Meet six Las Vegans who know their way around an accelerator

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Busch, Kyle Busch.
Photo: Steve Helber

Las Vegas might not be as synonymous with speed as Daytona or Indianapolis, but it’s home to a diverse collection of racers and motorsports performers. Here are a few faces to know in the Vegas race scene:

The Busch brothers: Leaving Kurt and Kyle Busch out of any list of Vegas racers would be like leaving the Wrights out of an aviation textbook. The brothers have 52 NASCAR Sprint Cup victories between them and both cut their racing teeth in Nevada. Kurt, 34, began racing Dwarf cars in Pahrump as a 13-year-old in 1992. Six years later, Kyle, 28, started driving in U.S. Legend Cars International competitions. Since then, the brothers have drawn attention almost as much for their temperamental nature as their driving. They’ve been in fights—verbal and physical—with competitors, team members and even fans. When Kurt drew the No. 10 ranking on a Forbes list of the most-hated athletes, there were jokes that Kyle could have been No. 11.

Nick “Apex” Brocha: Freestyle motorcycle riding is about making bikes do things they’re not designed to do, like wheelies on the front wheel or spins on the rear wheel like an ice skater doing an axel. Nick Brocha is among the best in the world at it. Search for footage of him—try “Motorcycle vs. Car Drift Battle 2,” in which Brocha and his riding partner outrun a modified police car—and prepare to be entertained. The videos are like movie car chases—only with nonfictional danger. Freestyle riding is a tough job, and Brocha, who lives in Henderson, has the broken bones to prove it. His travel schedule is brutal, too—this year, he’s ridden in Panama, Thailand and from New Jersey to California in pursuit of appearance fees and sponsorship checks.

Steve Alexander: Compared to the Ford Bronco that Steve Alexander drove in 1979, his first year of desert racing, his current competition vehicle is a work of science fiction. It’s powered by a Porsche motor and features a suspension that allows him to drive through rough terrain faster than he could go through fairly flat straightaways in the Bronco. “In those early years, I couldn’t stand up straight for a week after a race,” he says. “There were some guys who would piss blood.” Those low-tech days are over for Alexander, a Republic Services manager. He’s cut endorsement deals with high-end performance parts manufacturers and taken home victories in his class during two of the past three runnings of the Mint 400.

Derek Costella

Derek Costella: Combine a 12-year-old who loved to take risks with an 80cc motorcycle and what was once a fairly remote family home at Bermuda and Robindale, and this what you get: “It was like Disneyland,” Derek Costella says. “I could ride up to Windmill and Bermuda, get into one of the drainage ditches and ride to the desert.” Costella, now 29, is still riding in the desert, but now he’s doing it as a former amateur motocross national champion, a six-time Mini Moto Supercross champ and a top Supermoto rider. He’s also had TV time as a member of the Fuel TV series Thrillbillies, which is a little like Jackass with horsepower. Next for Costella? He’s promoting a biography and looking to get into desert truck racing.

Thomas Smith: Thomas Smith didn’t start racing with dreams of being a professional. It just turned out that way. Smith, an automotive technician for CarMax in Las Vegas, began competing in amateur events after his brother became interested in racing. Weekends at a local track led to regional competitions, and eventually Smith was fast enough to draw the attention of the Subaru Las Vegas pro team. Today, Smith races practically anything with an accelerator, from go-karts to his own competition car to vehicles sponsored by Subaru.

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Ric covered beats ranging from police and courts to major-college sports before becoming a news columnist, opinion editor and now ...

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