Who Are Racing Banquets Really For Anyway?

Over the past week I’ve been organizing pictures of the 2014 racing season in preparation for the ARCA Midwest Tour Banquet at the end of the month. For the past five years, (or six, I honestly can’t remember and don’t really feel like looking it up right now), I have put together and ran the presentation for these banquets. All of the things you see on the big screen behind the stage, that’s me. Sometimes I think I spend just as much time making sure all of my click throughs are correct as I do making the actual slides. My biggest fear is clicking too soon and having something appear on the screen that we are not quite ready to announce yet.

Just like anything else, I enjoy having this responsibility and putting it all together, but at the same time, sometimes I flat hate it. There are times that I just stand up, close my computer, walk away, pick up my phone and check Facebook. Surely there’s got to be someone out there to give me a laugh.

The other night while I was thinking about the work ahead of me, I started to dread it. However as I sat there I started to picture everyone in the room (no I don’t mean naked), and my perspective started to shift. Let’s face it, if you come from the racing world that I do, banquets are not on the list of favorite things to do. I have always said that if I could make the dress code, it would be jeans, hats, sweatshirts, and if you know anything about me, you’ll know that boots will also be allowed. I’ve yet to attend one that carries that dress code, but if I do, I’ll let you know.

When I was picturing the room of people, I started to think about why I’m really putting all the work into the presentation. Of course I want to be proud of my work and it feels good to see it showcased up on that screen. I think that’s the case for most people who put pride in what they do. But after I really thought about it, I realized, ‘huh, it’s really not for me at all.’

Every slide I prepare has a specific purpose. Not a single one of them is “filler.” Every special award, every driver, no matter the points position, every speaker, they all deserve just as much attention as the next guy. They worked hard all season to achieve what they did and have the right to be honored for that, and you know what? Now that I think about it, I’m proud to be able to add to their special night. Seriously, I’ve never thought about it that way before. Pretty pathetic, eh?

As you can imagine, there were many banquets to attend during my dad’s career. He was really good at getting out of them, but he did attend a few. I remember going to one particular banquet with him in Madison one year. I honestly don’t remember what it was for, but I remember being there and his tie and my dress matched…awe. He had to give a speech up on the stage and just like most Midwest short track racers, he was terrified. It was uncomfortable for me to see him so vulnerable up there. If my heart is anywhere, it is in not wanting people to feel uncomfortable, it makes me feel really uneasy. Plus, he was my hero. But it was also a reminder that he was human and while I never knew him to have a fear, public speaking was definitely one. I have a feeling there are a lot of racers who can identify with his fear. But I’ll have you all know, that those of you I’ve seen get up on stage and speak, have done an awesome job considering.

I’ve had to give a fair share of speeches in my lifetime, some racing related, some not. I received a scholarship award from a racing organization one year and got to share that night with a lot of cool people (hence the pic with Mr. Gant), but it didn’t go without having to get up on stage and give a speech. Thankfully they asked me to write the entire thing ahead of time so they could read it first, so basically all I had to do was read. Easy enough. Now that I think about it, maybe they just wanted to make sure their scholarship money was going to an educated person. Hmmm. Anyway, I guess you could say I’ve been on both sides of the screen, for lack of a better term.

There was one particular banquet I attended that will always stand out in my mind. The reason I will always remember it is because my dad couldn’t be there, so I went in his place. You see my dad was really sick at the time and he no longer had his voice, so speaking would’ve been impossible, let alone being able to sit through a banquet. He was receiving an award that night, so I was him for the evening. At this banquet, all of the award recipients actually sat in front of the crowd on the stage. Talk about uncomfortable. I had the pleasure of sitting next to Steve Carlson, and if I recall, the people at his table were keeping him hydrated with Coors Light from the cooler under the table. I didn’t really know him that well at the time, so this perplexed me a little bit. But over the years it all made sense. Some things never change.

When they announced my dad to receive his award, it was my turn to stand up and give a speech. I didn’t prepare a thing. I totally winged it, but it must have been pretty good because as I walked back to my seat, a couple guys asked if I’d give their’s too. I really should go back to winging it. The last banquet I had to speak at was a disaster, at least to me. I had sort of prepared for that one. Hmmm…note to self. Anyway, I don’t remember anything I said that night, but I am sure it was how honored he was to receive it and how honored I was to be there to accept it. And I was.

So I got to thinking, if I was sitting in the crowd, and my dad was walking up to receive some sort of award at a racing banquet, I would hope the person that put the slide together thought about him when they created it. I mean, if I was sitting there I wouldn’t be thinking about the person who created it or was running the presentation, and I don’t expect nor would I want anyone to be thinking about me. But I would hope that it wasn’t just thrown together, that it actually meant something to be that person to be able to put that slide together for the recipient.

One of the advantages for me is that I get to sit off to the side inconspicuously, trying to stay as incognito as possible, and I don’t mind at all. So I guess the point of this entire article is that even though I might be burned out by the time the banquet arrives, I want to be proud of what I created because everyone in the room deserves that from me. I will be honored to put together each and every slide for each and every person, knowing how hard they worked and the sacrifices they and their families made during the season to be able to have the opportunity to get up on the stage that night.

The best part about the racing family is that we get each other. We all feel uncomfortable and out of our element together. We expect people to be nervous giving a speech and applaud them not only for their achievements, but for getting through it as well.

I’ll see the ARCA Midwest Tour bunch in about a month, and good luck to all of those other banquets going on in the coming days. Let me know what your dress code is, cause if it’s jeans, sweatshirts, and boots, maybe I’ll show up. 🙂