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Speedway's toy drive revs up holiday spirits
Santa gets into Martinsville Speedway President Clay Campbell’s race car during Saturday’s toy drive at the track. Santa also listened to children’s wish lists at the event. (Bulletin photos by Mike Wray)
A little more than 1,500 toys were collected and $4,500 was donated at the 16th annual Martinsville Speedway Toy Drive on Saturday.
The donations came from 47 people taking rides on the track in a Sprint Cup car, more than 100 people driving their private cars on the track and concession sales, according to a news release and Mike Smith, director of public relations for the speedway.
Alicia and Bill Lantz were among those who rode in a Sprint Cup car at speeds of up to 90 mph around the half-mile oval. Martinsville Speedway President Clay Campbell, who competes in several NASCAR divisions, drove the car.
The Lantzes, both 62, haven’t missed a race at the speedway since they moved to Martinsville two years ago from outside Columbus, Ohio. Bill Lantz is the plant engineer at RTI International Metals Inc.
After putting on a fire suit, Hans device (a head and neck support device) and helmet, Alicia Lantz, with a little help, climbed into the Sprint Cup car through the passenger door window.
After going several laps around track, she said the ride was thrilling — like a bucket-list experience for her. Since she doesn’t have a bucket list, the ride will be one of her husband’s Christmas gifts to her, she said.
She said even though she was fastened tightly inside the Sprint Cup car, her body shifted in the seat on turns. “I can’t imagine doing that 500 laps,” she said.
She also found it hard to conceive what it would be like to drive that car at high speeds when there are dozens of other cars on the track.
The ride also was thrilling when the car got close to the wall at times, she said.
Bill’s ride came after Alicia’s.
“I thought it was great, exciting,” her husband said when it was over. “Everybody should have the chance to do it.”
Alicia jokingly called Bill A.J. Foyt at one point, referring to the first four-time winner of the Indianapolis 500 and the only driver to win the Indy, the Daytona 500 and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Campbell said the Sprint Cup rides gave fans a feel for what it’s like to be a driver.
He also said there was a great turnout for the speedway’s annual toy drive, and he praised the community for pulling together. “Christmas Day is going to be so much better for so many children in our area,” he said.
The outpouring exceeded last year’s total of nearly 1,000 toys donated and an additional $2,500 in cash collected, according to published reports at the time.
Grace Network will distribute the toys and use the monetary donations to buy additional toys, according to a speedway news release and Becky McKinney, president of the board of directors of Grace Network. Toys will be provided for about 200 children, she said.
Grace Network used about 35 volunteers to collect toys and cash from people who wanted to drive around the track in their cars. Volunteers took the toys to the infield , sorted them by age group and then boxed them for distribution to families, according to a speedway news release.
Nancy Davis of Martinsville said that she; husband, Milt; daughter, Liz Jackman; and Liz’s fiancé, Coy Hensley, all volunteered for Grace at the speedway Saturday. Nancy Davis said the thrift store that Hensley works for donated about 30 toys, puzzles and games, and Nancy and Milt donated four puzzles.
“I absolutely believe in Grace’s mission, part of which is to meet the needs of families,” Nancy said.
Also at the toy drive, children had their photographs taken with Santa.
Speedway staff members donated their time to man the infield concession stand to cook and sell hot dogs, and they coordinated the hot laps and Sprint Cup car laps with Campbell, according to a news release.