TROY – Morgan Bailey’s “bucket list” might best be described as a work in progress, because it isn’t on paper and it keeps changing.
Morgan Bailey holds framed mementoes from his Richard Petty Driving Experience. The long-time Troy resident won the personal NASCAR driving opportunity in a live auction that was part of the 2012 FirstHealth Montgomery Spring Event.
But if properly recorded with pen and ink on paper, Bailey’s life-experience wish list would now note two crossed-off “done-it” activities.
The 40-year Troy resident has completed a 5K race. He has also driven a real, actual, authentic NASCAR race car at speeds higher than he would ever dream of doing on a highway on a real, actual, authentic NASCAR track.
And he loved it.
“It was more than what I expected,” he says.
Bailey lived out his racing fantasy courtesy of the Richard Petty Driving Experience, an “authentic NASCAR entertainment,” according to its promotional website. The Capel Inc. retiree bid on the chance for the high-speed drive at the 2012 FirstHealth Montgomery Foundation Spring Event.
Proceeds from annual Spring Event fundraisers support health care programs and allied services targeting the community’s underinsured, including children, isolated elderly and the working poor.
Living his NASCAR dream didn’t come as easily, or as inexpensively, as Bailey had hoped. Someone else went to the fundraiser with exactly the same man-dream, and a live auction bidding competition ran up the cost – a good thing for the FirstHealth Montgomery Foundation.
Bailey won’t say how much his eight laps on the Charlotte Motor Speedway set him back, except that it was more than the $495 it would have been had he gone through the usual registration process. Still, says the member of the FirstHealth Montgomery Board of Advisers, it was worth it.
“It was fun,” he says.
Bailey was born, raised and educated in Rock Hill, S.C., and at Davidson College, just miles away from Charlotte and the heart of stockcar racing territory, but had never attended a NASCAR race.
“When I saw this was in the auction, I thought it would be a heck of a lot better than going to a race,” he says.
The Spring Event bid item was arranged by Kathie Parson of FirstHealth of the Carolinas, herself no stranger to professional racing and the Petty racing world. Before becoming a FirstHealth marketing development coordinator, Parson spent several years working for the Petty family in Charlotte – near the speedway – and in Randolph County, where several generations of Petty racing royalty reside.
Knowing Parson’s background with the Pettys, Montgomery Memorial Hospital President Beth Walker asked her to try to arrange a racing experience for the 2012 Spring Event. Parson thought it was a great idea and set out to make it happen.
“I’ve witnessed hundreds and hundreds go through this,” Parson says of the racing experience program. “I did it myself, and it was thrilling.”
On the day of his track experience this summer, Bailey found himself in the company of 10 other men. All were younger than he, and each was excited about his anticipated time on the track. One group of friends even bet on who would wind up going the fastest.
Once outfitted with suit and helmet and properly schooled on safety measures, each man began the wait for his turn. As his time approached, Bailey – who was 10th in the group of 11 – found himself increasingly concerned about something other than the potential for danger. Observing that the cars lacked doors, an obvious safety feature, he started to worry about whether he would be able to get into the car and then whether he would be able to get out.
As it turned out, both access and egress – achieved by hoisting oneself through the driver’s side window – were pretty easy. In fact, says Bailey, “that was no problem at all.”
Once in the car, Bailey noted its sturdy build as well as what was on the dash – a large tachometer and a few other gauges – and what was not – a speedometer. The professional driver assigned to help him and to drive an accompanying pace car showed him how to change gears in his four-speed No. 31 and hammered home the importance of keeping his eyes on the pace car and following the signals indicated by its green and yellow lights.
Given his program-assigned experience level of “rookie,” Bailey knew his drive would be pretty basic, but it was exciting just the same, beginning with the noise and rumble from the powerful engine – 2,000 RPMs at the beginning and 4,000 at top speed.
Entering the track from pit row in second gear, Bailey quickly approached a marker that indicated the shift into third and then another marker for the driving-speed fourth gear. He took the first lap on the lower end of the track and then began moving toward the wall – always with the pace car in full view about three car-lengths ahead.
In no time, Bailey was a scary 6 inches from the wall. “If I got nervous, that is the place I got nervous,” he recalls.
Within minutes, Bailey’s NASCAR experience was over. He later learned that he had clocked a top speed of 86, not the 132 of one of the betting buddies but not bad for someone more accustomed to the legal highway speeds he averages in his Mercedes convertible.
“Sixty-two is pretty good for me,” he says.
With the NASCAR experience officially crossed off his bucket list and mementoes of the memorable day appropriately framed and displayed, Bailey now concentrates on daily living with an occasional thought to other once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. He doesn’t completely dismiss the idea of another race-track try, however.
“I would do it again if the occasion arose,” he says.
For information on the FirstHealth Montgomery Foundation and the programs supported through the annual Spring Event fundraiser, please call (910) 571-5024 or (910) 695-7500.