News & Media


NASCAR Unites takes volunteering to new level

April 29, 2011, Dave Rodman, NASCAR.com

RICHMOND, Va. -- The NASCAR Foundation kicked-off the heart of its 2011 fundraising campaign Friday at Richmond International Raceway by announcing its NASCAR Unites initiative, the culmination of five years of tracking fan- and industry-wide tendencies and opinions.

NASCAR's mission statement indicates NASCAR Unites "engages the sport in a collaborative effort to support children's causes through fundraising, volunteering, sharing inspirational stories and unifying to make a difference."

NASCAR announced a three-pronged process Friday:

-- NASCAR Day: Celebrated this year on May 20, is an annual charitable celebration that unifies the NASCAR community to better the lives of children. Plans for NASCAR Day activities, which will be announced in more detail next weekend at Darlington, will include local activities at numerous NASCAR race tracks around the United States.

-- Summer of Volunteer Service: This summer, the NASCAR Foundation will encourage fans to pledge at least five hours of volunteer service in an effort to collectively generate more than one million hours of "giving back to local communities."

-- Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award: This award will recognize active community volunteers. Beginning Friday, fans are encouraged to submit inspiring stories -- at www.nascar.com/unites, which is the portal to the initiative -- demonstrating a local champion's support of children's causes. Volunteer nominations may be submitted online until July 18.

Asked if 2011 was easily the most ambitious -- and even most aggressive -- fund-raising campaign in the NASCAR Foundation's history, executive director Sandy Marshall readily agreed.

"I believe so, definitely with the volunteer hours," Marshall said. "We have five years behind us in seeing what works within the industry and what works with our fans, and we're confident in having fans pledge one million volunteer hours [as a reachable goal]. But it is aggressive, and we're excited."

NASCAR fans' engagement with their chosen sport and its athletes and participants is legendary, and it's what makes Marshall confident.

"We've had five years to see the fans in action through various volunteer projects and to talk to them at-track; and to see our drivers in action," Marshall said. "And we think it's definitely attainable as we put some organization around it to get everything together."

In implementing these programs, NASCAR Unites offers fans and the NASCAR community "Two Million Ways to Unite for Kids" in 2011. Through NASCAR Unites' volunteerism and fundraising efforts, the NASCAR Foundation will grant $1 million to children's charities and hopes to generate one million volunteer hours in local communities "to help children lead happier, healthier lives."

Considering children are the prime beneficiaries, Marshall agreed whatever occurs the initiative is a win-win proposition.

"Absolutely, [because] any time that anyone can give -- if we can inspire one person to get out there and do something for a child, especially in these times when everyone is so frazzled and their kids really need a lot of attention and help with their education and health issues," Marshall said. "Even if we can inspire a handful of fans to do something great for kids, we're doing our jobs."

Marshall urged fans to visit www.nascar.com/unites "to see about volunteer opportunities, places where you can volunteer, how you can get your NASCAR Unites wristband as well as nominate your own volunteer heroes in their community for the Betty Jane France Award."

Marshall said fans had a great variety of options for their volunteer work.

"Through our research -- and we've been planning this for a couple years now and looking at a number of different models out there," Marshall said. "We just learned the tracks and our track's markets -- the fans in those communities -- have their own interests and their own needs in their communities. So for us to say we were aligning with one organization for volunteer projects just didn't make sense.

"We wanted to allow fans and the industry to keep the opportunities unique to their communities and their community's needs. We'll have opportunities posted that are available throughout the U.S., but fans can also post their own opportunities.

"So our tracks, our drivers and our drivers' foundations can also post their own opportunities where they can list dates, times, places, the number of volunteers needed and the charities benefiting; and fans will be able to sign up through our site."

Marshall said on the site fans can plug-in their zip code to assess opportunities in their area. She also cited a fundraising program Talladega Superspeedway immediately put in place this week to benefit the American Red Cross aiding persons stricken by the recent spate of tornadoes in Alabama.

Marshall said the site, and the initiative in effect is a "liquid opportunity" that is constantly changing to aid a changing environment; much as Sprint Cup driver Denny Hamlin, through his foundation's Thursday night "Short Track Showdown" fundraiser at RIR diverted 10 percent of the proceeds to tornado relief efforts.

"The site's being launched [Friday], but we want people to go to it and add to it," Marshall said. "Obviously, it won't be as robust [at the start] as it'll be in three weeks, and we hope people will keep adding opportunities."

Marshall laughed when she noted the environment of children and families in need is sometimes so overwhelming: "If we had a staff of 1,000 we might be able to help everyone who needs our assistance." But she also cited individual fans, groups, track operators and the athletes themselves stepping-up in a variety of ways that made the foundation work as well as it does.

"I think the most fulfilling aspect is probably when you go out to the track and you're with the fans and the drivers," Marshall said. "Every race weekend we are fulfilling NASCAR dreams -- whether that's bringing a group of school kids out to the track to learn about the science of racing, or bringing 'Make a Wish' kids to the track to meet their favorite driver and giving them their racing experience of a lifetime, or even working in the fan zone areas and talking with fans and sharing their ideas and experiences.

"So the best part is going to the track each weekend and just living the experience, because there's a lot that the drivers and team owners and [NASCAR president] Mike Helton are doing for charity each weekend that you don't ever hear about and we get to see all of that."

Fans can immediately participate in a couple ways, including making a $5 donation to receive a wristband that serves as an icon of the NASCAR Unites campaign by showcasing fans' passion for children's causes and encouraging acts of service or making a $10 donation to receive a limited-edition NASCAR Day pin, which supports the mission of the Victory Junction Gang Camp. Pins are available at the Sprint Experience at-track and at www.nascar.com/foundation.