Last February, like a new born calf, I was trying to find my legs. After deciding to take some well deserved and much needed time away from the corporate world, I discovered the transition was scary and invigorating all at the same time. I’m happy to report that this year has presented numerous unexpected opportunities to stretch beyond my comfort zone. Making that stretch is what I needed to grow in new and different ways.
You can’t reach your greatest potential in your comfortable box or by staying in the same lane. Swerving off the predictable path has taken me down new roads, past new sights and introduced me to new people, thereby enriching me professionally, personally and creatively.
For example, I had the opportunity to attend Daytona 500 for the first time. I know you are giving me the side eye. Why would a perfectly sane Black woman in her 40’s go anywhere near a NASCAR race given the perception of the sport and fan base? One of our Ms. X Factor contributors, Tracey Warfield, told me to do something the scares me or makes me uncomfortable everyday. I think she’s on to something important so that’s exactly why I did it! I accepted the invitation, packed a bag and went to Daytona 500. And guess what, I can’t wait to go again! Here’s why:
1. You have not lived until you ride in a car that is moving at 130 MPH on a race track. My ride in the pace car was a boost of pure adrenaline. Don’t worry, I won’t go home and try to replicate this on the freeway because, laws, tickets, danger, etc. But, if you can, everyone needs to experience it at least once to appreciate the power of the vehicles and the skill of the drivers, who during the race are traveling at speeds approaching 200 MPH. There were a number of gasp worthy crashes that took many cars out of the race, including Danica Patrick, making the finish a complete nail biter. The roar of the cars and the suspense was exhilarating!
2. NASCAR is working to diversify the sport. Let’s address the elephant in the room. The sport has been seen as unwelcoming to people of color. I did see a few confederate flags on RV’s but they were the exception not the norm. In walking around, I took the opportunity to chat up other fans and found that people were nice and excited to answer my rookie questions about the sport.
Listen, given our current divisive climate, this is probably not the spot to have intense discussions about politics or policy. Just go watch the race and have fun. There people who don’t share your view of the world in all aspects of your life, don’t let them keep you from a good time.
I spoke at length to Dawn Harris, Senior Director, Multicultural Development at NASCAR. She shared insight on the programs NASCAR has in place to recruit and develop talent on and off the track. I was quite surprised by the number of women and people of color working in their front office. Many came to NASCAR through the diversity internship program. Also, there is a strong pipeline of diverse drivers coming up through the ranks behind Darrell “Bubba” Wallace, Jr.
3. It captures the true essence of sport. I had the privilege to interview Darrell Wallace, Jr. before his historic Daytona 500 debut. This young man is a star in the making. His post-race interview and heartfelt embrace with his Mom brought us all to tears. They won even though he came in second. Desiree Wallace, was there for her baby all the way! You could feel the blood, sweat, and tears that he and his family have put into getting him to the top echelon of motor sports. It was also emotional because of the place he has now taken in history as the first full-time African-American driver since Wendell Scott’s last complete season in 1971. The historic moment was underscored by the pre-race call he received from baseball legend, Hank Aaron and the tweet from four-time Formula 1 champion, Lewis Hamilton.
4. Fans can get up close in a way I’ve never seen in other sports. Drivers walk around and take the time to sign autographs and interact with the fans. Going behind the scenes allowed me to see the extensive technology and science that go into making race day so exciting.
Motorsports is a STEM lover’s dream.
The cars are works of mechanical genius. They are weighed down at Daytona to keep them from going too fast! Each car is examined by lasers to ensure strict compliance with race specifications. The trailers carrying the cars from race to race have enough parts to essentially rebuild the car if needed, servers, and communications command centers. During the race, a team of engineers monitor the car performance and the driver. It’s a great way to show kids interesting ways to apply technology and engineering. Pro tip: Children can go to NASCAR XFinity and Camping World Truck Series Races for free while other races have affordable prices for kids.
Did you know that fans can walk on the track before the race? I signed the track wishing the drivers good luck from Ms. X Factor.
Watching the race from pit row gave me a front row seat to the magic that happens during a pit stop. I wish my refueling and tire changes could happen in 12 second! These pit crews are ATHLETES. The precision timing and strength are amazing. I was surprised to learn there are women working as part of the pit crews. Meeting Brehanna Daniels and Breanna O’Leary, badass lady pit crew members, was inspiring.
Overall, this was a great introduction to motorsports. I’ll go to the races again and look forward to following the talented people I met. More importantly, I pushed myself outside of my comfort zone and discovered that I liked fast cars and racing! When you get opportunities for new experiences, swerve out of your comfortable lane and take them. More often than not, you come out on the other side having gained something.
The Ms. X Factor team loves to share experiences with our readers and their families. Don’t be surprised if we slide in your DMs with an invitation for some fun. The Travis and Potts families responded quickly to our invitation and were able to enjoy a VIP experience at NASCAR in Atlanta!
Would you go to a NASCAR race if Ms. X Factor hosted a meet up? Let us know. Drop a comment below.