By James Addis at the Chevy Rock & Roll 400 race in Richmond, Va.
Saturday night, I watched the race from the press box. Alas, my inexperience with all things NASCAR was suddenly evident. A reporter’s worst nightmare—not being quite sure what is going on. With 50 laps to go, car #78 disappeared the track after apparently blowing a tire. Early on, it completely conked out and had to be pushed into the pits before making a comeback. Was this it—could a blown tire put car #78 out of the race?
Needing to file a report on the race for World Vision’s Web site before midnight, I started panicking. I thought to call Joe Garone, Furniture Row’s racing team manager. But surely he had more things to worry about than a call from me.
Finally, I did call, and I needn’t have worried. Joe proved a perfect gentleman, carefully explaining all the mishaps (a lot of it a bit too technical for my purposes—more than I could absorb at that late hour anyway). The car’s right front tire blew out, causing it to careen into the track wall. This bent the car’s frame and forced it and driver Regan Smith out of the race.
But for more than a 170 exciting laps, the near-capacity crowd of more than 100,000—and millions more on national television—had the chance to familiarize themselves with World Vision’s name as car #78 sped around the track.
Racegoers also had the opportunity to learn more about the organization and child sponsorship through World Vision’s sponsorship displays and an exhibit, “Life in my Village,” set up behind the raceway stands.
The displays were manned by about 160 volunteers working several shifts over a three-day period. Among them was 70-year-old Lee Mellott, who sponsors 16 children in 8 countries and writes to each one every month. Lee stood outside the “Life in my Village” exhibit in the hot sun for two days handing out ear plugs and bumper stickers to passersby and urging them to visit the exhibit. The former Marine said tours of duty in places such as Vietnam had opened his eyes to the depths of deprivation suffered by many children around the world, and prompted him to urge others to discover the joy of making a difference through sponsorship.
“My thrill is receiving letters from my sponsored children. Some are very close and personal. They can’t tell you how much they appreciate having a sponsor,” he said.
Thanks to Lee’s efforts and those of the other volunteers, more than 4,000 race goers signed up to get more information about sponsoring a child. Many NASCAR fans had never heard of World Vision, confirming the organization’s view that this is an important audience to reach with its message.