Just Amazing What Can Be Learned Through Racing
When my oldest son was a toddler, he was an only child. Then came my second, a daughter and she was the “New Kid on the Block” so to speak, and my son seemed to feel left out at times. I knew I needed to find a way to make him still feel part of the family, like he was still my #1 son.
So he started watching NASCAR races with me and he loved it! He would sit in my lap making race car noises and gasping when cars crashed. He began cheering for one driver, Matt Kenseth. He knew Kenseth’s number was 17 at the time and that his car was yellow. Well, I saw he was starting to notice colors, so I asked him what color the different cars were, and he was soaking it up! Soon he was describing various color schemes and knowing the other drivers.
I saw that as he was preparing to go to pre-K this may also work on his numbers, so we started naming cars by numbers and before long, Austin knew his colors and his numbers just from watching auto racing,! I was over the top proud as a father that my son loved racing, and that he was learning from it.
Well before long it was little sister’s turn to sit in Daddy’s lap and watch races. (This was during my first years as a radio show host so I was spending lots of time watching videos of races both past and present and racing was on the TV at my house often) She took to the colors just as her big brother had, and sure enough the numbers came along as well.
As both children entered Pre-K the teachers were amazed at how well the kids had learned numbers and colors. The head of the Georgia Head Start program in this area called a meeting with me and asked me how these kids had learned so well the various colors, not just red blue and green but yellow, pink, teal, Dark blue and Petty Blue. I explained how it had all came about, and they were amazed. Well, me also being a photographer I offered to provide the class with photos of race cars, all different numbers and colors. The kid’s loved it! It was a hit! As my kids grew out of the kindergarten stage and moved into 1st and 2nd grade, they told the teachers how I had taught them about numbers and colors. The teachers thought it was a great idea, and a few asked for sets of photos, which I gladly provided free of charge.
Things cooled for a year or two when I began announcing at North Georgia Speedway. One of the teachers also happened to be a race fan, (actually she was engaged to a racer, but anyway…) and she mentioned to the kids that she had seen their dad at the race track announcing, and asked the kids if I would be willing to come in on Career Day and talk to the kids about my job announcing and working in radio.. The kids rushed home and asked if I would, so I gladly said “Sure” and the plans were made.
I went and spoke at school for Career day and fielded tons of questions from the kids about my job. Well it seems the principle also watched part of my speech, and she asked me after I spoke if I would be willing to work with her on a “pet project” she had called “Racing To Read.”
Over the next few weeks she and I developed a short program where I would talk to the kids about how important reading was in racing. I showed up the day of the assembly, and brought a couple of drivers with me; each of us stood up in front of like 500 kids in 3rd thru 5th grades and talked about how important reading was and how they should work hard to learn to read better. And to Stay in School! It was probably the most fun I have ever had in school. It was also a huge success!
After a few days we had heard what a huge success the whole program had been for the kids and how each of them took something away from it. The two drivers and I loved it; it touched us that the kids listened, and that they actually got something out of what we had to say.
The following Saturday we noticed something else, I was seeing lots of kids at the races, with parents in tow! And then the light bulb snapped on. What a great win for everyone involved, reaching out to schools to attract new fans, and giving the kids a valuable lesson on life at the same time! We worked this for 3 years, working with local schools and even churches, to spread the word of racing to new and excited fans.
As I look back on the past 11 years that I have been involved with local racing both as an announcer, and radio show host, and the past 4 years as the PR/Special Events Director, I have opened my eyes to lots of new avenues of ways to attract fans… to look where others have not looked and to welcome the new fans into the folds of fandom.
I tell you this story for a couple reasons; first we must all do all we can to help new fans learn about the sport, to help them grow to love it as each of us lifelong fans do. AND secondly to show that for some of us racing is much more than a hobby, it’s a way of life… one we cherish and want to share with everyone around us.
Happy New Year to each and every one, and I hope we see you at the track soon!
Host of “The Mitch Walker Show”
Monday nights at 9:30 pm on