by Betsy Perry
Last Sunday was a first for me. I actually sat through the entire 300 laps of the New Hampshire Motor Speedway’s NASCAR race much to my surprise. Fortified with ear plugs and binoculars and exceptionally good seats (thanks to my second cousin), I became a focused observer of car racing and humankind. While I was impressed by the speed of the cars and the control that skillful drivers demonstrated (there were no crashes in this race, only a few bumps), most of my observations were about people.
There were over 100,000 fans in the seats, on the hillside opposite where we sat, and up in two helicopters constantly flying over the track. The last time I had been sitting anywhere with over 100,000 people was in University of Michigan’s stadium, the “Big House” in Ann Arbor, where we used to live. I never thought the rural state of New Hampshire would ever hold any kind of a gathering attracting that many people. And most everyone seemed to be having fun even the kids. Some people were mighty serious about their favorite drivers, #14 “Smoke” aka Tony Stewart or #48 Jimmy Johnson, with a fan sitting behind us who stood the entire race with eyes glued to Jimmy’s car and commenting on every strategic move.
Another serious fan, a woman sitting in front of me, was writing in a small notebook, and I thought how nice, she is journaling her experience, until I realized she was writing down a vast number of numbers, probably statistics of some sort. Then she closed her little notebook and it was entitled, “My Official NASCAR Notebook.”
As I’m glancing at all the pit stops in front of us, I see Aflac, Energizer, Office Depot, Target, and then. . . wait a minute, it couldn’t be but it is, Presbyterian Healthcare? So what’s religion got to do with car racing (besides the opening prayer at each NASCAR race)? None of the expert racing fans surrounding me (my husband and my cousin’s husband) had heard of them. We couldn’t even find out the name of the driver. I’ll “Google” it later, I decided.
Here’s the Google scoop. . . a hospital opened in 1903 in Charlotte, NC, with help from the Presbyterian Church, and it has morphed into a large healthcare system over the years to partner with car racing mogul Michael McDowell, to reach “a wide audience [to promote] the importance of regular health screenings to save lives. I find this partnership deserving of great merit from the health care standpoint. I have a Master’s in Public Health and believe in prevention through health screenings. From a religious standpoint, I don’t think there is any connection with the Presbyterians of today that I could find.
But here’s the question: How much of McDowell’s $1.8 million in winnings in 22 starts brings people to the screening programs and ultimately saves lives? His pit stop was pretty plain compared to the others like Aflac, so I don’t think they spend too much money there, and the big semi that carried his car was likewise. So maybe a few bucks go for a really good cause. I wondered: What if other drivers whose winnings total upwards of $6 million each did the same and maybe they do? Then I found that the pole winner, Jeff Gordon, who finished third in NH and has earned over $4.7 million, drives to end hunger. I’ll research more for the next car race I go to. I think I’ll have plenty of time!