Ray Wright wants race fans to be appalled this weekend.
In fact, Wright wants everyone to be appalled at something that is happening in the very backyards of the race teams in the Charlotte area and across North Carolina.
Wright, who is pit crew coach for Richard Childress Racing, says that child hunger is a growing problem in the United States, and that when he and the RCR pit crews learned how far-reaching the problem is (one in five children nationwide and one in four in North Carolina is food-insecure), they knew they needed to find a way to help.
Enter Pit Stops for Hope, a non-profit organization founded by Wright and the RCR crewman which tackles childhood poverty and has issued a challenge for people across the country this weekend to understand what many children are faced with every day. Wright wants fans to give up food for 24 hours…and to be angry about the reason.
“We really want (everyone) to get involved this Saturday,” Wright says. “Brendan Gaughan is running a paint scheme with our logo, a full job on the car and we are pushing a challenge called #gofast. We want people in NC and all across the country to not eat food for 24 hours. We want people to align themselves with food-insecure children all over the country, because when school gets out this summer, there are going to be a lot of kids who are missing out on their free or reduced price lunch. We want to show our support. We want to align ourselves with these kids. Doing this will hopefully raise awareness (so) that people in America get appalled that there are hungry kids living right around us.”
Gaughan will race his No. 62 XFINITY Series car in the Hisense 300 Saturday carrying a colorful paint scheme for Pit Stops for Hope. Gaughan, whose family-owned South Point Hotel & Casino is the No. 62’s primary sponsor, donated the entire car to the cause for the weekend.
“Ray asked for this, and for South Point Casino, this is not our neck of the woods. This is Charlotte, North Carolina—this is NASCAR’s home, and we felt like what better place to make a statement and to help put Ray,” Gauagan says. “It’s a North Carolina-based charity that tries to do a lot for the youth of North Carolina, so this is their main track. Hopefully it makes a big enough statement to some that it’s important enough everywhere, not just in North Carolina.”
“We are so grateful to Brendan for allowing us to do this. We don’t know if we’ll ever have this opportunity again, Wright says. “Brendan Gaughan is one of the nicest people anybody could ever meet and we’re just so grateful for the opportunity that he’s giving us to run our logo and our pitch on his car. It’s an unbelievable feeling for us.”
Pit Stops for Hope began with a few crew members from RCR who wanted to make a difference, and it was easy for Wright and the others to identify the cause the group would focus on helping. Wright says, “Growing up I always had a concern for the less fortunate people who were living in poverty around me, so when I got a job in NASCAR, (I was able to help). A lot of it is faith motivated, there’s no doubt about it. I wanted to be…instead of talking about my faith or about faith as a whole, the RCR guys, we really just wanted to show it a lot more. And to show it, we’ve got to take care of each other. The need in North Carolina was so great—one in four kids are food insecure in North Carolina , so we knew we had our cause and we knew we needed to go for it, and that’s where Pit Stops for Hope started.”
It started with a group from RCR, but crew members from several teams have quickly joined the cause, which has raised over $175,000 to date.
“We’ve got guys donating from all along pit road,” Wright explains. They’ll donate their race-used goods—gloves, old knee pads, you name it. Throughout the years, we’re creating a good reputation on pit road.”
Gaughan adds that the entire RCR organization is involved with the charity’s efforts. “Trust me, being on the team with Ray Wright, we all do a lot all year long with Pit Stops for Hope,”says Gaughan. All of our pit crews are intrinsically involved. It’s a nice deal. I don’t get the opportunity to donate much time to it, since I’m living in Las Vegas most of the time, but I’d do anything for Ray and anytime I can help him, I try.”
There are a number of ways for fans to get involved. Those interested in the #gofast challenge can find more information at www.pitstopsforhope.org, and those who are not able to fast are encouraged to donate $24 to the organization, which has in turn donated to many different groups and individuals both in North Carolina and nationwide. Fans can also follow @pitstopsforhope on Twitter and Instagram for online auctions and giveaways.
“We are partnered with the Salvation Army and Second Harvest Food Bank, and wherever the need is most (apparent), we will help” says Wright. “We sent a $2000 check to an elementary school in Flint, Michigan, to help out with their budget problems after the Flint water crisis. We’ve been able help people all across the country. Wherever the need is, we try to step up and help out; we don’t narrow it down and keep it as open as possible.”
The group also works with teachers and social workers to help individuals in need; there are request forms available to them on the website. Individuals can nominate teachers to receive a monthly award to help them improve their classrooms for their students.
Wright believes that simply feeding children in poverty is not enough. H esays that to break the cycle, children also need to feel motivated to learn and to know that there are adults who want to help them succeed.
“Tackling this problem of child poverty, we’ve broken the poverty problem into three areas: nutritional poverty, educational poverty and the poverty of living with little hope for the future,” Wright explains. “Educational poverty in North Carolina is huge. WE have teachers who are among the lowest-paid teachers in the country. We have an education budget that is among the lowest in the country as well. Education and the interest in education is a major part of getting a lot of these kids out of poverty. What we’re doing right now as a society is we’re just reproducing poverty. We’re recycling poverty. People who grew up in poverty, well, they’re going to raise a family in poverty. We have to somehow break this cycle, and getting kids interested in school, helping the teachers in the classroom, providing money for the teachers is something that can help the kids. If they have a better learning environment, they’re going to be more interested in learning. That’s a big part for us.
It’s not just about sending checks, though. Pit Stops for Hope helps in other ways, including providing children with necessities that many people take for granted.
“It’s been great,” Wright says of events that have allowed the group to work directly with impoverished children. “Just last week, we have a barber friend who came over, and we went to the Center of Hope in Winston-Salem. The Center of Hope is the only family homeless shelter in the area. There are 79 kids who live in that homeless shelter. We gave all those kids haircuts. That’s just one aspect (of the program) was how excited they were for a haircut. We sent a kid to computer camp last summer. We sent a kid to basketball camp last summer. We’ve given out backpacks of food and school supplies. These kids, they love when somebody believes in them. They might not have it at home, they might not have it at school, so when somebody comes in and show that they have a person, and adult to believe that they have a good future ahead of them. It’s just the small things we can do for our brothers and sisters who live in poverty.”
And when many people come together doing those small things thanks to Ray Wright’s initiative, it makes a big difference.
About the author
Amy is an 18-year veteran NASCAR writer and a five-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found filling in from time to time on The Frontstretch 5 (Wednesdays) and her monthly commentary Holding A Pretty Wheel (Thursdays). A New Hampshire native living in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.