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Cars Edge Hoops In N.C.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, June 22 2011

North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue, seated between Hall of Famers Bobby Allison and Ned Jarrett, makes it official. (Phhoto courtesy of NASCAR)

CONCORD, N.C. – With the stroke of a pen, North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue signed into law Tuesday a bill adopting stock car racing as the Tar Heel state’s official sport, but it was 13 elementary school students who were responsible for the new state symbol.

“Why is it that sometimes it takes really bright kids to tell all of us grownups what we should be doing?” Perdue asked. “That’s what these students are about today. They found something that should have been right under our noses.”

There were a few in the Legislature who felt basketball should be North Carolina’s state sport due to that sport’s heritage in the Tar Heel-based Atlantic Coast Conference. However, the students argued basketball was founded in Massachusetts, while stock car racing originated in North Carolina.

“We thought about basketball and stock car racing, but after we did our research we found that stock car racing was a better fit for North Carolina,” said Maria Meyerhoefer, who with Tanner Orr, both age 12, spearheaded the project that was initiated by fourth-grade teacher Nettie Gambill.

Racing contributes more than $6 billion to the North Carolina economy annually, it creates more than 20,000 jobs in the state, there are more than 30 tracks in North Carolina and several community colleges and four-year universities offer degrees in motorsports engineering, marketing and administration.

The push to make stock car racing the state sport started during the 2008-09 school year when students at Lake Norman Elementary School and Mount Mourne IB, both in Iredell County, began working with Gambill on the project. In October 2009 they met with Rep. Grey Mills to ask if he would support the idea in the state Legislature. He agreed, but told them no new bills would be introduced during the Legislature’s 2010 short session. It was then it was decided to make it a fourth-grade project since those students study state symbols. Eleven fourth graders and two fifth graders were selected in May 2010 to participate in the project, which meant a great deal of after-school work and no extra credit in the classroom.

Preparing their case for the Legislature included visiting various race shops in the Mooresville and Concord area, researching the sport’s history, talking with government officials and the media, establishing a Face book page and creating display boards promoting their position, and campaigning for their position with such organizations as the Civitan Club and at various speedways. Bulldawg Marketing even sponsored the Mini-Outlaw Kart driven by Karsyn Elledge, Kelley’s Earnhardt’s daughter, as No. 333 in support of the project in March.

Mills submitted the students’ idea to the Legislative Services Commission’s bill drafting division in January 2011. In February, the Mooresville town board endorsed the project. In March, House Bill 333 and Senate Bill 322 to make stock car racing’s the state sport were introduced. On June 15, the students visited the Legislature in Raleigh,  N.C., to listen to the debate and witness the final vote on Senate Bill 322 in the House of Representatives.

The bill was overwhelmingly approved and sent to the governor’s desk to be signed into law. That signing occurred Tuesday at Charlotte Motor Speedway before a standing-room only crowd that included NASCAR Hall of Famers Ned Jarrett and Bobby Allison, NASCAR Sprint Cup driver David Ragan, JR Motorsports co-owner Kelley Earnhardt, former NASCAR Busch Series champion David Green, various Legends and Bandolero drivers competing in the speedway’s Summer Shootout Series, state, county and city officials, and members of the North Carolina Motorsports Council. A Chevrolet driven by seven-time NASCAR Cup champion Dale Earnhardt also was on display.

Meyerhoefer, who aspires to be an attorney, and Orr, who would one day like to be governor, were in the fourth grade when they began working on the project and agreed to continue on it while in the fifth grade. Orr said he was surprised at the length of time it took to get the project completed and the state sport approved.

Meyerhoefer said Tuesday’s bill signing provided her with a “lot of happiness”.

“It’s like all of the hard work paid off,” said Meyerhoefer, who has lived in Mooresville since age 2.

Orr , who also has lived in Mooresville since a toddler, noted they were representing their town, county and state, and they would be recognized in history books for their accomplishment.

Jarrett, a Hickory, N.C., native who began his racing career when it wasn’t a sport accepted by the pillars of the community, said he never thought he would see the day that stock car racing would be the state sport.

“I had no dreams that this could happen and it’s such a wonderful day for the sport,” Jarrett said. “To see all the great things that have happened in North Carolina over the years, having started here and to see it have grown where it is today with a great facility like Charlotte Motor Speedway, now the NASCAR Hall of Fame, and now designated as the official sport of North Carolina, that’s beyond anyone’s wildest dreams, I think, especially since it came from such humble beginnings.”

– Deb Williams can be reached at dwilliams@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, June 22 2011
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