"Beth! Beth!" "What?" "Stop taking pictures. WE HAVE TO GO."
That's how I found myself jogging - no, all-out sprinting - toward Phoenix International Speedway's Victory Lane last Sunday after Jeff Gordon won in the Drive to End Hunger #24 car. I was lucky enough to get to watch the race from the back of the pits. You can smell the cars, hear the yells of the crew chief, watch as they scrape fire off the freshly removed tires, and hear thunder in the desert as the green flag comes down.
If you're not familiar with Drive to End Hunger, this is a good place to start. We were lucky to sponsor Jeff Gordon and the #24 car - and they've been working very hard to get the word out about the very serious problem of senior hunger. Winning a race helps - and it doesn't hurt that it's fun to watch a little racing, meet a few fans, and cheer on the car in the sunshine.
In Daytona, I had a few drinks with a guy named Bruce. I was just learning about NASCAR then, still am, and I asked Bruce how he ended up in Daytona. "Look at this," he said, and he opened his wallet. At first I thought he'd show me a picture of his wife, or his kids, or maybe a dog, but Bruce pointed to the picture of a racecar there in his wallet and said, "This is my baby. My pride and joy."
Since then, I've met many more fans like Bruce - people who do a little racing in their spare time, kids who've wanted to work on a racecar crew since they were tall enough to see over the tires. NASCAR fans are crazy about their sport, and everyone I've talked to has been really happy to see AARP - and Drive to End Hunger - involved.
Every time I hang out on the Facebook page, read the stream of replies to Drive to End Hunger's Twitter account, or meet people at the races, I hear how they're supporting us - with donations if they can, or even just with words of encouragement if they can't give any money. What a classy group of fans they've been so far - we can't wait to meet more of them in Fontana, California on March 27.
(Photo: Jeff Gordon celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the Subway Fresh Fit 500 Sunday, February 27, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona. Photo by AARP's Jordan McNerney.)