- 09 July 2012
- by Ryan Papaserge
It’s usually a busy race weekend for NASCAR officials, pit crew members and drivers. Between practice, qualifying and the actual event, there isn’t a lot of downtime to be had. Hence, you’d think – in today’s sports world of glitz and glamour – the last thing they would want to do is greet fans.
You’d be wrong, according to Sandy Marshall, executive director of The NASCAR Foundation.
“Our drivers are donating a ton of time on the weekends to fulfill the NASCAR Dreams of children wanting to experience NASCAR behind-the-scenes with their favourite drivers,” Marshall said. “They are spending a lot of time with these kids and do some great things.”
Since the charity’s inception in 2006, The NASCAR Foundation has produced $13 million in support, provided medical treatment for 24,000 children and fulfilled more than 600 NASCAR Dreams, according to The NASCAR Foundation website.
The aforementioned medical treatment is provided via Speediatrics, founded by Betty Jane France to create a racing-themed experience for children without the typical hospital stresses. There are two Florida-based locations – the Betty Jane France Center for Pediatrics at Halifax Health Medical Center in Daytona Beach, and the Betty Jane France Children’s Emergency Center at Homestead Hospital.
Meanwhile, NASCAR Dreams works in conjunction with teams, tracks, and charities like the Make-a-Wish Foundation to benefit “children with debilitating injuries, underprivileged youth, kids and parents serving in the military, and others,” according to The NASCAR Foundation website.
“Basically, it’s to give kids the chance of a lifetime at a track to experience a behind-the-scenes look at NASCAR, meet their favorite drivers, to get the royal treatment all weekend long,” Marshall said.
Marshall noted all parties are generally very cooperative, working together to make the experience as ideal as possible for Dream recipients.
“Volunteers from the industry help with the tours at the race track,” Marshall said. “We’ll have 20 family members on a tour at a time. Pit crews, team members – when we’re doing a garage tour, they’re always great to come out and give the kids lugnuts (and) put them in the driver’s seat.
“We involve the NASCAR officials to give (the kids) an inside view at the area where they’re going through tech (inspection). A lot of times, it’s fun when a driver wins because the driver might invite that child down to Victory Lane if (the team) wins.”
Away from helping children, The NASCAR Foundation is in the midst of NASCAR Unites: An American Salute, a high-profile campaign publicized through special paint schemes, on-track promotions and official sponsors.
The aim of the program is to honor the troops and their families, with the Memorial Day weekend Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway and last weekend’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway as the premier campaign events.
“It’s a first-year effort,” Marshall said. “Our hope, as a company, is to continue this and make it bigger and better each year. We’ve learned a lot this year in where we could go with the program going forward.”
Those interested in supporting NASCAR Unites can donate $5.00 to get a wristband www.nascar.com/unites. Additionally, fans can fill out postcards for military families on the website.
The NASCAR Foundation is always searching for interested fans to join the NASCAR Foundation Volunteer Network. Marshall said 25 to 100 fans volunteer their time every race weekend, but volunteers are also encouraged to donate their time at satellite events.