Commentary

March 22, 2013

Chance of a lifetime; getting the most from volunteer experience

(Right) The No. 43 car, driven by Aric Almirola, races around the track during the Kobalt Tools 400 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway March 10 in Las Vegas. Almirola is a Cuban-American NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racecar driver, currently driving the No. 43 Smithfield Foods/United States Air Force/STP Ford for Richard Petty Motorsports.

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. — We all hear about the myriad of volunteer opportunities available on and off base. Our leaders encourage us to get out in the local community and represent the Air Force.

Sometimes we go; other times we just get busy.

We might volunteer in order to fill one last line on our quarterly award package or performance report. The best kind of volunteer activity is just doing it for fun, and this is exactly what happened for me recently in an experience I could have never predicted.

I was still in Afghanistan when I saw an email from the Nellis Top III calling for NASCAR volunteers. The job? Pull rooftop security at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway for 10 hours during the race.

Having never attended a race, I leapt at the opportunity and was added the volunteer roster. A month later, I woke after five hours of sleep, silently regretting the lost hour of daylight saving time. I arrived at the speedway before sunrise and gathered at the meeting point before the day started with a routine sign-in and issue of a staff vest along with security training.

We headed for the open rooftop area high above the speedway, and that’s when I realized this was going to be no ordinary day.

The clear skies, calm air and approaching sunrise were positive signs. I was reminded of the movie “Cars” as I noted the neat layout of the track’s inside grounds. Having nearly finished my familiarization round of the rooftop, I greeted a NASCAR representative who was just entering the control room, a nerve center high above the checkered flag. She soon discovered that we were Air Force volunteers and revealed that her father had been retired Air Force. As the NASCAR Timing and Scoring Official, she enthusiastically invited me into the control room where I also met Michael Phillips, the NASCAR Senior Track Manager. I could not stay long, the day was only beginning.

The Top III volunteers had full access to the entire speedway with very few exceptions since we were identified as “staff.”

Due to our early arrival, some volunteers took the opportunity to view the garages and pit areas. Already feeling lucky to have this experience as a volunteer, the day got even better when we helped a few senior business executives take a group photo. They extended an invitation to their VIP suite where we met drivers Tony Stewart, Danica Patrick and Ryan Newman.

I stayed long enough to listen to Tony and Danica joke with the VIP crowd and answer questions, then returned to rooftop security. The rest of the day was filled with great weather, a thrilling Thunderbird flyover, wild crowds and the deep rumble of 43 finely tuned engines.

It was a memorable event. I wanted only to volunteer for something new and different; what happened certainly exceeded my wildest dreams.

The next time you wonder whether to volunteer or not, just give a go, and leave the rest up to chance! I also want to extend a big thank you to the Nellis Top III for the opportunity to represent the Air Force at this awesome event.




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