Challenge cadets treated to VIP motorsports tour

Story and photos by Staff Sgt. Scott Raymond, Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs

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(Left to right) Sarah Heck, graduate of Bluegrass Challenge Academy, Rome Meade, graduate of Appalachian Challenge Academy, Cole Davis, graduate of Hoosier Youth Challenge Academy, Dallas Voge, cadet at Bluegrass Challenge Academy, Jeremy Suhor, cadet at Louisiana Youth Challenge Program, tour Hendrick Motorsports in Concord, N.C., June 10, 2013. The tour was in conjunction with the company’s support of the National Guard Youth Foundation. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Scott Raymond)

CONCORD, N.C. — Since 2007, Hendrick Motorsports has been a fan of the National Guard Youth Foundation. 2013 marks a new step in the relationship as the National Guard Youth Foundation logo will adorn Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s car for the NASCAR Quaker State 400 race at Kentucky Speedway, June 29.  The move is also benefitting the cadets of the academies nationwide, as millions of fans will take notice of the new paint scheme, placing the foundation in the spotlight.

For six Challenge Academy cadets, the first benefit was a VIP tour of Hendrick Motorsports in Concord, N.C., June 10.  Located just outside Charlotte, N.C., the vast complex is fitting for one of the most successful race teams in NASCAR. And there wasn’t much the cadets didn’t get to see.

“I can’t believe there are so many cars,” said Jeremy Suhor, a cadet at the Louisiana National Guard Youth Challenge Program who also said his future plans include anything with wheels and a motor. “The tour was crazy. I saw a lot of machines I’ve never seen before, and I didn’t know what they did.”

To see more photos from the cadets’ tour, click here.

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Cadets and faculty of National Guard Youth Challenge programs tour Hendrick Motorsports in Concord, N.C., June 10, 2013. Each cadet said the behind the scenes tour was an interesting look inside the world of NASCAR. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Scott Raymond)

Of the six cadets, three are current and recent graduates of the Kentucky Challenge academies. Rome Meade is from Harlan, Ky., and a graduate of the Appalachian Challenge Academy and a big Kasey Kahne fan. Kahne drives the number 5 car for Hendrick, so Meade was excited to get up and close to the cars of his favorite driver.

“Today was awesome,” said Meade. ” I don’t think I have a favorite part, it was all great, but I really liked the museum of cars.”

Hendrick’s personal collection of old vehicles at the complex is a fine museum for any admirer of cars in general, but the one the cadets are most excited about is the one Earnhardt will drive at Kentucky.

“I can’t wait to see the logo on the car, what he’s representing, for us,”  said Meade. “It’s not just something that known by some people now, it’s going to be known by many more people after that.”

Sarah Heck is from Breckinridge County, Ky.,and graduated from Bluegrass Challenge Academy at Fort Knox. She said she is excited for the race in Kentucky and thinks that it will be a lot of fun. Heck is thankful for the program for the opportunities it has given her and is glad to see more kids getting that chance.

“I really enjoyed coming down here, it was nice to get away,” she said. “It’s great to see and meet cadets from other states and share their motivation for the program.”

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Rome Meade, a recent graduate of Kentucky’s Appalachian Challenge Academy enjoys his time in the spotlight during an interview with Hendrick Motorsports in Concord, N.C., June 10, 2013. The interviews will be shown during the week leading up to the NASCAR race at Kentucky Speedway, June 29. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Scott Raymond)

The group toured the body shop and frame shop, where the racecars are built. They saw where Hendrick employees fabricate the engines in house. The highlights of the tour then turned to studio lights as each cadet took their turn doing interviews for future commercials. Hendrick Motorsports plans on showcasing each cadet’s segment leading up to the race at Kentucky.

Ashley Saunders, Communications Director for the National Guard Youth Foundation helped organize the trip, but said it was Rick Hendrick’s idea to put the logo on the car, bring the cadets down for the tour and treat them to the race later in the month.  She believes more attention should be paid to the high school drop out rates in the country and to the programs that are out there trying to make a difference.

“We are really excited about the chance to have such a monumental opportunity to raise awareness of the Challenge program and the impact it is having on the lives of thousands of young men and women each year,” she said.

“We like to call the Challenge program, the best kept secret in the National Guard. And to have Dale Jr., Mr. Hendrick and Hendrick Motorsports team in partnership with us to support our efforts to make sure they continue on the right path to success, it means a lot to us.”

For more information on the National Guard Youth Foundation and the Challenge academies, click here.

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