NASCAR star brings message of teamwork to vo-tech school

Top NASCAR racer Kyle Larson addresses students Tuesday at t St. Georges Technical High School while a photo with his sister from his youthful racing days is projected on a screen. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

Top NASCAR racer Kyle Larson addresses students Tuesday at t St. Georges Technical High School while a photo with his sister from his youthful racing days is projected on a screen. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

It’s routine for schools to bring in professionals of various fields to address students, especially on career days, when doctors, nurses, accountants, lawyers, social workers, engineers and members of other fields try to inspire children.

St. Georges Technical School took that concept a lap or two further Tuesday when Kyle Larson, a rising star on NASCAR’s elite racing circuit, stopped in for a 90-minute pit stop.

Larson, a baby-faced 25-year-old from California who began racing at age 7, has won four NASCAR Cup Series races this year. Though one main purpose of his visit to St. Georges was to promote a NASCAR weekend he will compete in at Dover Downs International Speedway on Sept 29-Oct. 1, the racer told students about traits that have helped propel him to the pinnacle of his high-speed profession.

St. Georges, a sprawling 11-year-old vocational school north of Middletown, has about 1,150 students who can choose from more than a dozen career pathways, including auto technology, biotechnology, plumbing, athletic health care and culinary arts.

Though it is a vocational- and technology-oriented school, St. Georges also focuses on academic skills, especially literacy, with measurable success. In SAT scores for English this year, for example, 60 percent of St. Georges’ were proficient, compared with 53 percent statewide.

About 45 participate in auto technology, a unit housed in a wing the size of a small airplane hangar. Students learn everything about building, repair and maintaining motor vehicles, and also work at a related job as part of their curriculum.

On Tuesday, Larson first addressed an auditorium filled with about 500 students from St. Georges and three other New Castle County vocational-technical schools – Hodgson, Delcastle and Howard.

The easygoing Larson did mention that he sometimes drives too fast, once briefly losing his license because of speeding tickets, and has lost some of his winnings at the Dover Downs casino. But his primary message focused on persevering at what you love, and about how a performer like himself cannot thrive without a team of unsung heroes whose sum is much larger than any of their individual parts.

“I’m a small part of the overall deal,” he said. “There’s all these different types of areas at our shop that come together to make our racing what it is and make our race cars as fast as they are. It takes a lot of hard work and long hours by the men and women of our shop to let me go and have fun on [race] weekends and get the recognition when all those people should be getting all the credit.

Larson also stressed how various skills he has developed have helped him prosper, singling out the ability to communicating, which helps him transmit data to his team during races, promote his career off the track and please his corporate sponsors.

During races, for example, his speed often surpasses 200 mph, so he relies on rooftop spotters to let him know whether other drivers are approaching on the left and right. He communicates with them through radios via a microphone in his helmet, to “let them know what I’m feeling in my car.”

During the assembly and while meeting with about 25 auto tech students with a member of his Chip Ganassi Racing team, Larson explained that the skills they learn at St. Georges could earn them a fine job and career, perhaps even on a NASCAR team, which uses engineers, assemblers, painters, technicians, pit crew, graphic designers and others with knowledge of the automotive business.

Walter Smith, an auto tech student who hopes to open up his own performance shop, said he was grateful that St. Georges brought Larson to his class. “It’s pretty cool that my school would do something like this for us and that I’d get the opportunity to meet somebody like that.”

Smith’s big takeaway from his encounter Tuesday with the stock car standout?

“It’s hard work, dedication to be able to achieve what you want to do,” Smith said. “As long as you do those things and play your cards right, you can get it done.”

Shanta Reynolds, the principal at St. Georges, noted that the vo-tech students benefited Tuesday not only by having a star in their midst but having that star explain “what it’s like in his profession and the things that you have to go through. That it’s not just something you wake up and do in the morning, that there’s a process to that.”

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