What a day in Talladega, Alabama. We started the day by meeting a few Drive to End Hunger fans, and ended it watching Jeff Gordon in the #24 Drive to End Hunger car very nearly win the whole thing. They call it "the big one", here, and it did not disappoint - from the campgrounds spread miles outside the track to the noise level echoing off the backstretch as fan favorite Dale Earnhart Jr. led the race, Talladega was epic American racing.
But even here, at a race so big and so ridiculous they made a movie about it, people kept telling us - Talladega isn't the same. Alabama isn't the same. 23.90% of Alabama residents reported not having enough money to buy food last year, and the effects of the recession were everywhere. There were fewer bead stands, we were told (in Talladega, much like Mardi Gras, beads are a must-have accessory); and the green grass on the infield by the backstretch held clusters of fans by the fence, but not the crowds that would have filled it in earlier years. "I found out my mom is having trouble affording groceries," one man said, his partying interrupted by a rare serious moment. "She won't admit it, but she needs help - and I'm just glad we can help, but what if we didn't know? What if we weren't around?" At a local food bank, we heard many stories of people who last year were doing just fine, and this year, are forced to ask for a little help.
As much as we love cheering the #24 car on, races like these are a sobering reminder of why we decided to become a sponsor and raise awareness of seniors who are going hungry, every single day. Let's tackle this. Donate, if you can, and if you can't, tell a race fan the Drive to End Hunger story.
(Photo: Jeff & Ingrid Gordon stand by the Drive to End Hunger car as the National Anthem plays before the Aaron's 499 Sprint Cup race, Sunday, April 17, 2011.)
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