Motorsports Academy Off to Fast Start
After performing consistently for the first two weeks of racing season, the group definitely has something to smile about. Marks finished third, fourth and third, respectively, during the first three races of the season, leaving her second in points for the Limited Sportsman Division.
"Things are looking really positive. I'm really pleased with the way the car is handling from race to race and week to week so far," Marks said. "Everyone has been racing really clean and the season has gotten off to a great start. These young people, the students in the pit crew, are very eager and excited about working on the car. There's lots of enthusiasm and the main factor is that they are willing to listen and learn."
Marks is driving the Halifax County Motorsports Academy race car, a Chevrolet Monte Carlo with a crate engine. Fifteen NASCAR–licensed students from the Halifax County High School (HCHS) Motorsports Academy are serving as her pit crew for the entire season. An additional 50 students are signed up to observe in the infield and pit area and view the race procedures and pit work. Halifax County Public Schools Superintendent Paul Stapleton announced the partnership with Marks last October, giving the new pit crew time to get themselves and the car ready for racing season.
"We are so pleased to be in this partnership with Terri Marks," said Stapleton. "Her work with the students is opening new doors for learning and we're fortunate to have her as our driver in this program as well as have her provide guidance and experienced knowledge to our students. She has a great way of interacting with the students that we believe will help them to better understand and find their way in the motorsports industry."
HCHS Motorsports Academy instructor Doug Newcomb, Marks' long time friend and racing colleague, is crew chief. Buddy Wilborn, also a Motorsports Academy instructor, is a NASCAR-licensed official at the Speedway. Both men have long-standing motorsports experience which drives them personally and professionally. The pair knew the race team project was a significant undertaking but felt it was a unique opportunity for students.
"The students are very receptive to Terri and she has the personality which works well in this environment. She talks on the students' level when she communicates with them, explaining things so they can understand what's going on and why things happen the way they do," Newcomb said. "Students receive the best possible teaching reinforcement when they see what we talk about in the classroom being applied at the race track. We feel like the whole project is doing what it set out to do, which is provide students with skills in motorsports and strengthen the core areas like math and science."
Stapleton, Newcomb and Wilborn are quick to remind folks that the project couldn't have been done without the support of the Mattioli Foundation and South Boston Speedway, including Owner Dr Joe Mattioli, Speedway General Manager Cathy Rice, and Vice President Nick Igdalsky.
The Motorsports Academy, one of seven Academies in Halifax County Public Schools, first offered classes during the 2005-2006 school year. Enrollment for the classes nearly doubled between the first and second year, with current enrollment totaling more than 100 students.
Marks, who has spent time with students in the classroom as well as at the race track, says the whole experience has been very rewarding and she believes the students' confidence helps bolster her own outlook.
"I feel like this project fits really well in my racing career. This has opened up another avenue in racing that I had not had an opportunity to experience before. I think what we're doing offers potential for growth and learning, both for the students and for me," Marks said. "The better we do, the more students will recognize that their hard work helps the team and helps us succeed. Good attitudes, trust and understanding are important too, and I want the students to learn and grow through this whole process."
Newcomb and Wilborn are glad to have the students at the track, and the pair believes that the project builds a better relationship between instructor and student.
"The students are inquisitive about everything and we are finding more and more that students are helping one another learn," Wilborn said. "The hands-on work creates a higher level of attachment and their outlook is different and more serious when they know their skills are being put toward creating something significant."
Students chosen for the pit crew were required to be 16 years old and willing to dedicate a significant portion of their time to the project, including time throughout the summer when regular classes are not in session. Instructors Newcomb and Wilborn will continuously evaluate participating students on their effort and time participation, addressing any problems as they present themselves.
Marks is a native of Capron, Va. and has been racing for 12 years. Marks most recent accomplishments include winning the Track Championship in the Grand Stock Division at South Boston Speedway in 2004. She had three wins and eight top-five finishes in 10 races. She also won the awards for Most Wins, Most Popular Driver, and Sportsmanship.
As the team gears up for the next race April 21 and continues to develop sponsors for the car, Marks considers the potential for the project and even looks toward the championship.
"This area of the state provides excellent positioning for the Motorsports Academy and this partnership is natural for us," Marks said. "Our greatest hope is that students will take all they can from this experience and we will do everything we can to teach them what they need to know to be successful, including racing for the championship."
For more information about South Boston Speedway's 50th anniversary season, phone the speedway at 434-572-4947 or 1-877-440-1540.