DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – It was a big week for the Daytona International Speedway as race fans converged on the area for the season’s Super Bowl of races in the NASCAR Cup Series with the Daytona 500.

But it’s not all race fans from out of town and fast cars.

Among the many events taking place around the track are a number of charitable activities including The NASCAR Foundation’s Speediatrics Fun Day Festival presented by Kaulig Racing hosted on Friday, February 16.

Kaulig Racing drivers take part in the Speediatrics Fun Day Festival. Penelope Anderson/Flagler News Weekly

A Day to Just Be a Kid

Greeted by the Foundation’s mascot and the current Miss America Madison Marsh, it was a morning of laughing, playing, and strengthening their social skills as dozens of kids enjoyed a day to just be kids during the fun fest.  Galaxy Middle School teacher Sheryl Carroll-Rhoben watched with a look of happiness as the students connected with one another.

“So exciting. It’s like a change from being in the classroom. They’re so happy to be outside and having fun,” she said. “A day away from the books.”

Kids are fitted for helmets by members of the Volusia County business community. Penelope Anderson/FlaglerNewsWeekly.

“(They’re) learning to interact with students from different schools, and to be one. It’s like unity,” said Carroll-Rhoben.

Knowing just how critical positive social interaction for youth is during these years, Number 43 Truck Series and Number 10 in the NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Daniel Dye appreciated the opportunity to support the day for the kids.

Truck and Xfinity Series driver Daniel Dye attends the fun day on January 16, 2024. Penelope Anderson/Flagler News Weekly

“Super cool not only to be here at Daytona for the races but to do this NASCAR Foundation event. It’s always fun. They have a lot of these at the race tracks every week and I try to make it as many as I possibly can,” said Dye. “It’s good to get the next generation interested in the sport.”

Dye helps spearhead the “Race to Stop Suicide” initiative, providing ways for those feeling alone, to connect.

“It’s something we started about five years ago. It’s been really good and is a mission that means a lot to me and my family. We just try to do as much as we possibly can to start the message and make more people comfortable talking about it and able to get help.”

Children enjoy field day activities. Penelope Anderson/Flagler News Weekly 

A Little Encouragement Goes A Long Way

Cheering the kids on during the field day fun, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s cheer team partnered with area business team members to offer the kids interactive pit road experiences like fuel refueling, tire changing and tire rolling, while fitting them for free bicycle helmets, leading up to the big reveal.

Mea Darley, Associate Athletic Director for Internal Affairs at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, watched proudly as the ERAU co-ed cheer team infused the event with team spirit and encouragement.

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University cheer team members encourage the children. Penelope Anderson/Flagler News Weekly

“It’s absolutely amazing. At Embry-Riddle we love to give back, especially Embry-Riddle athletics, we try to get our students to come out and help wherever we can in the community. It’s been an absolute pleasure to be out here today and helping the kids,” said Darley.

“We actually do some work with Food Brings Hope already, we bring them to our games, so it’s nice to see some familiar faces out here,” she said.

An interactive day for students with The NASCAR Foundation. Penelope Anderon/Flagler News Weekly.

Gathering for the big reveal, cheers went up from the crowd as the two students selected to receive new bicycles were announced. Even bigger cheers were heard when it was revealed every child would receive one.

Community-Driven Support Opens Up Opportunity

Supported by community-based organizations like The NASCAR Foundation, Kaulig Racing, and Jeep Beach, the event brought together those who find joy in creating opportunities to give.

“It’s what the NASCAR Foundation’s all about,” said Nichole Krieger, Executive Director of the NASCAR Foundation, enthusiastically.

“We go into a race community and we like to leave something behind when we move on to the next one. Obviously, Daytona and Volusia County is what we consider our home track and so it’s a very important track for us. This community, it’s where we live, where we work, where we raise our families, and so it’s really important for us to be here and to give back to these kids,” said Krieger.

Youth take a safety pledge before receiving their bicycles. Penelope Anderson/Flagler News Weekly

Just as NASCAR has placed a premium on driver and fan safety, the Foundation has done so with the kids they serve. Krieger asked each child to take a safety pledge before receiving their bicycle.

“We’ll never give a bike without giving the helmets. We really want to the kids to wear the helmets and to be smart. We want everyone to be out having a good time and there’s a right way to do that. That’s why they go hand in hand,” she said.

Also on the receiving end was Food Brings Hope Community. Executive Director David Humphries shared his gratitude on behalf of the organization and the children served.

“It’s a wonderful experience partnering with NASCAR. Their donation, kids’ day, it means the world. The kids are going to enjoy their new bicycles. The money goes a long way toward helping Volusia County, and we’re very excited for the help,” said Humphries.

A $15,000 grant helps support Volusia County nonprofit Food Brings Hope. Penelope Anderson/Flagler News Weekly

Watching her own son, Tommy Gerkin, an eighth grader from Indian Trails Middle School in Palm Coast who volunteered to be the Foundation’s mascot for the day, Heidi York, Senior Coordinator of Programs for the Foundation, sees days like these as a win-win for the community and the supporting businesses who give back.

“It’s just priceless. These kids get to learn about a sport that they may never have been exposed to, they get to learn about health and wellness, and they get to experience everything that’s offered here at the track, so at the end of day they learn a lot and at organization gets a $15,000 grant from the NASCAR Foundation, so we also give back and support them in their programs.”