Monday, December 13, 2010

NASCAR rallies together for Stocks for Tots



NASCAR happens to be a very generous company, and anyone involved in the sport knows all too well of the importance of giving back to others. There are a lot of charities that NASCAR and the drivers participate in.

STOCKS for TOTS is one of many. It’s an organization created to bring drivers and their fans together while raising awareness for SCAN: Stop Child Abuse Now, a nonprofit organization that brings awareness to child abuse in North Carolina.

On Dec. 7, I attended the event. So here it is, Confessions of a rookie fan!

After a long day at work, I came home and decided I wanted to take a break from reading, writing and working out to get some rest. After changing into my pajamas, I sat down and perused Facebook. I came across a status update by Kelley Earnhardt; she said she would be at the NASCAR Technical Institute for Stocks for Tots with her daughter from 7 to 9 p.m. I looked at the clock, it was 6:30 p.m. I had time to get there, but at first I didn’t think I should go. I didn’t have a gift for a kid. "But I live next to so many stores," I heard myself say to, well, myself.

I paced around the room and before I knew it, I was changing out of my pajamas and heading out the door. I made a quick stop at the store, bought an inexpensive unisex toy and was in Moorseville, N.C., within minutes. It was another one of those unanticipated events I found myself attending. It seems as though, whenever I do not plan to attend an event, it turns out in my favor.

I rationalized with myself the entire ride there. I always talk about the importance of participating in charities, so I was doing the right thing. I mean, all I was going to do was walk in, donate the toy, say hey to Kelley Earnhardt and her daughter and be on my way. Not so bad, not so wrong … then I got there.

First, the parking lot was FULL.

Second, I walked in and was told at least a $10 donation must be made. So I paid my dues, donated my gift and was directed to the line where I would be able to meet drivers and get autographs.

“Wait, drivers? What did I get myself into?” I asked myself.

Then I thought, “Never underestimate a NASCAR charity event.”

The place was packed; the line was long….longer….longer …and longer. Whoa. Was there an end to the line? This event was bigger than big.

I stood at the end of the line…and as time wore on, a few people, NASCAR Tech students and staff stood behind me. As it turns out, the wristband they put on me when I paid my $10 indicated that I was person #634.

So in other words, at least 634 people attended. Pretty impressive, don’t you think?

The place was busy with people, sure, but there were so many things they were giving away: car hoods, side fenders, bumpers. They even had an auction to win all sorts of things. I saw fans standing in that line with tires to be signed … it was incredible.

The line extended to the back of the school and I was looking at the NAPA Auto Parts store on one side and on the other, I was looking at a room filled with engine cylinder blocks … or so I think that’s what they're called. My brother-in-law has them all over his shop, so I know they are engines.

I got in line at 7:50 p.m., then I looked at my cell phone, it was 8:25; the line barely moved. My feet were hurting; I had heels on.

What drivers were there? I kept asking myself. I could ask staff and volunteers, but, I didn’t want to find out and then be disappointed if they left before I got there.

I stood patiently and before I knew it, I was in the auditorium where all the drivers, crew chiefs and TV personalities were. I didn’t recognize any of them.

So I was polite. I said my hellos, got my autographs, learned a few things … like there are a lot of NASCAR racing divisions. I met a few up-and-coming drivers, some as young as 14 and 15.

I met several others, some names may be familiar to you: Steve Herbert and Mike Guerity from Race Review, Regan Smith, Larry McReynolds, Brandon McReynolds, Don Miller, John Andretti, Parker Kilgerman, Jake Crum, Timothy Peters, Greg Anderson, Jason Line, Doug Herbert, Cory Joyce, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Donnie Allison, Justin Allison, Ned Jarrett, Sam Hornish Jr. and finally, I met Ryan Newmen. I wasn’t nervous; I congratulated him on the birth of his new baby Brooklyn, who was born at 6 pounds during Thanksgiving week. We talked for a few minutes. He’s a cool guy - friendly, funny and nice. I wished him luck in 2011 and moved on. I met a few other guys along the way and realized that I had missed a chance to meet a legend, Bobby Allison. No worries, there were other Allison drivers in the house.

I then approached Kurt Busch. I shook his hand. He is small, looks a bit fragile and is very nice. I wasn’t shy or nervous and I said, “Finally! I wanted to meet you in NH when you were at …”

He politely interrupted “Yeah, at Makris.”

“Right, the locals' favorite dive bar,” I said with a laugh.

We continued our conversation. I joked with him some more and about how he changed his sponsor for 2011.

“Can’t make up your mind, can you?” I said and we laughed. I wished him a Merry Christmas and good luck for 2011 and walked on to the next one.

It was Kelley Earnhardt. We said hello; I got her autograph and met her daughter. Her oldest daughter, Karsyn, is starting to race; she is 10 years old. She is a petite little lady with a bubbly personality. She signed her name and car number. “I remembered to put my number on that one,” she said to me.

I was … speechless. Why is it that when we – or in my case – when I meet the one I want to meet … I freeze up and can’t speak?

I still don’t know.

I moved on. I met Ray Evernham, Jeff Gordon’s former crew chief. He was sitting next to Erin Crocker Evernham. I talked with her; how impressive was it that she was at the Patriots game in Foxborough, Mass., the night before and was now in Charlotte. I always love to meet Patriots fans.

I walked down the line some more and met more drivers. It ended rather quickly and I was tired; it was around 9:30 when I left. To be honest, the experience was exciting and overwhelming. Notice how I didn't post pictures? That's because I forgot to take them; I was busy taking in the experience.

This past NASCAR season has been an eye-opener for me. These guys do not only race, but make a life around being connected with their community, those less fortunate and their fans. I will certainly be ready to attend next year's event.

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