By Susanne Bowyer
Charlotte Motor Speedway is an electrifying track. Living near the homes of many NASCAR drivers, crews, owners, and race shops comes with an air of excitement that most fans wait all year to experience. With the Pit Crew Challenge, All-Star Race, and Coca-Cola 600 within two weeks of each other, Charlotte will host numerous fan-friendly events around town including, the Speed Street Festival, race shop Fan-Days, Hall of Fame exhibits and other events to celebrate the fans. There are free autograph signings from drivers, pit crew demonstrations, and shop tours all around the city and surrounding area.
In the past, I have won tickets to the races, received passes to events and engaged in adventures at the Speed Street Festival. I’m normally not what others would consider a ‘lucky person,’ but have been pretty fortunate at Charlotte’s track events. I’ve watched the race from the backstretch, the front stretch, and around turns 1 and 2. I have met, hugged, taken pictures with and received autographs from Hall of Famers, Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip, Ned Jarrett and Junior Johnson. I have just about done it all. From my home in Raleigh, the only costs expended were for food, hotel and gas to and from Charlotte.
So, with all this past good fortune, I decided, it was time to start giving back. In Acts 20:35 Jesus said “it is more blessed to give than to receive.” With a few ideas in mind and plans in place, I looked for any opportunity to give.
On Thursday, I delivered a cake and some presents to a soon-to-be-mom who works for MRN radio. MRN, the largest independent sports radio network in America, is the primary source for NASCAR radio programing. They provide play-by-play coverage of the Sprint Cup, Nationwide, and Truck Series’ via satellite to nearly 700 radio stations nationwide. Lauren Hoegler is an associate producer for Sprint Vision and she has always been incredibly nice on twitter by answering tweets and responding in kind gestures to everyone following her. My plan was to surprise her with a present to brighten her day. After giving Lauren her gifts, she gave me a tour of the MRN studio, introducing me to employees, showing me where editing occurs, and giving me the inside scoop of how race action is broadcast. So much for giving back to others?! It was fun and an experience I never would have expected.
Later in the evening, I arrived downtown for the Pit Crew Challenge. The parking lot was one that you park in a numbered spot and go to an island pay machine. As I get to the island, an aging couple is confused as to how to pay. So, I explain the rules of paying for their parking. The gentleman attempted to pay with a crumpled bill, carefully shoving it in the money slot. But the machine kept spitting it back at him. Lets face it, we’ve all been there, right? When the soda machine won’t give us our daily caffeine because our dollar bill has just that one wrong wrinkle. I decided to trade him my $10 bill for his, to see if it was any crisper and would fit into the machine. Through two or three attempts, I performed the ritual – fold it in half, smooth it across a flat surface – no earmarks or creases. Nope, didn’t work. Seeing his frustration mount, and the others behind us in line losing patience, I offered to pay for his parking with my credit card. But his wife graciously declined my offer, took her credit card out and put it into the machine. As they left, they handed me a receipt. I looked at them puzzled and they said “thanks for your help and kindness, we just paid for your parking.” So much for trying to help this wonderfully aging couple. Once again I had been given a gift.
After the Pit Crew Challenge, I went to check into my hotel. It was late at night and I really wanted to relax in a bed and sleep. Approaching the counter, the woman started uttering, “So it’s like this…” Your heart just sinks when someone starts off with those words. My immediate thought was, there was a mixup with my room and I was either going to have to drive home for the night or find some other hotel in the area. The lady proceeded to tell me that they had run out of hotel rooms due to some remodeling. So they were putting me into their “apartment.” At first I had no idea what this meant, so I told myself not to complain about something that may be tiny and uncomfortable. I really just needed sleep and a shower. Walking up to the room and putting my key into the door, I found a surprise. The ‘apartment’ was a luxury VIP room with two large bedrooms, walk in closets, pantry, full kitchen, large bathrooms, and large enough to have a front and back door. This place was almost as big as my apartment back home – and much cleaner. As I sat down to relax, I felt a bit guilty for taking up a room that an 8 – 10 person family could have used. So much for giving to others?! I had just received what some may call a get-away vacation weekend for the price of an economy hotel room.
On Friday, my plans included going to a benefit concert put on by nine teenagers to save the lives and end childhood slavery for 18 children in Ghana. The organization is called GhanaRock.org. This was definitely the one place this weekend where I knew, I could give back to the community. Arriving late, I bought t-shirts, cds, posters and then made my way into the concert that had already begun. Sitting down in the pew, I relaxed and let the music of UnHindered take me away. After UnHindered left the stage, talented artists Shawn MacDonald and then Kristin Stanfill filled the room with worship. This was my first Christian concert/benefit, as I’m normally not a ‘concert goer.’.Music really isn’t my ‘thing’ and I didn’t expect to get anything out of the experience. But I found myself in a world of peace and passion. The room was filled with hundreds of teenagers, hearts filled with love and kindness. If you’ve never experienced the kindness of a loving teenager – lets face it, sometimes that’s the last place you expect to see worship and love – then you must go to a similar event. Leaving this place, I’m a much better person for having been there sharing with them, than they were for receiving my monetary gift.
On Saturday I left for the track, having purchased tickets to the All-Star race because I wanted to give back to a great organization. Motor Racing Outreach is a non-profit organization serving the NASCAR racing community. Among other things, they provide chapel services for the crew and drivers in the community on race day. If you’re a frequent watcher of the race on TV, you’ll see prayer huddles with MRO chaplains praying with the crewmen and drivers prior to the race. They have given so much to the fans and athletes that I wanted to give something back. The MRO was offering their suite seats for purchase during the All-Star and Coca-Cola 600 races and I purchased a ticket. On arrival, I was pleasantly surprised with a really nice suite, with dinner and drinks provided, along with pit passes.
After enjoying my time taking pictures of kind-hearted pit crew members, meeting up with some friends, going to the tweetup, and listening to a free Blake Shelton concert, I made my way back up to the MRO suite to watch the race.
|Chaplains Campbell, Ivis and Jones|
Arriving at my seat, I struck up a conversation with the gentleman sitting beside me only to find out, he was a cadet/officer NAVY chaplain about to be deployed overseas with the Marines. It was his first race so we talked and shared stories. I told him the basics about racing and who to root for and he proceeded to tell me how he became a Navy Chaplain, the theology of different faiths and denominations and about his family and kids. During our discussion, I found out that he had once attended my home church in Raleigh and my senior pastor was the person pointing him toward the seminary college that he attended. Like me, he was a late bloomer to the Christian faith and his testimony helped me realize that starting late can be a blessing and God can use us at any age or at any place in our spiritual journey for His purpose. It was definitely not a coincidence that this guy was sitting beside me. Considering I don’t know much about the ever-changing rules of the All-Star race, I was definitely the beneficiary of this chance meeting and our agreement to swap knowledge. It was a remarkable experience and I loved sitting down with someone in a relaxed atmosphere who could answer my questions about faith.
So the moral of my weekend is, there is something remarkable in life where the more you try to give of your heart, the more exponentially you receive in return. I went into my weekend determined to ‘pay it forward’ and ‘give back’ to the community of Charlotte and NASCAR employees, and surprisingly, I was the one who received all of these gifts multiplied. ‘So much was given back,’ to me!
I encourage everyone to join me in giving to GhanaRock.org and to MRO at Go2MRO.com. You’ll be surprised at the gifts in life you will receive in return.
2 corinthians 9:7: Each one must give as he has decided in his heart… for God loves a cheerful giver.