NASCAR Cup Series
Chase Elliott: North Wilkesboro Owes Much to Dale Jr
Sep 2, 2022
Mike Messick knew is his gut that something was up. His co-workers at Roush-Yates Racing had asked him to attend a hastily-arranged pizza lunch at the shop this past Wednesday. He was told they’d celebrate Rick Ware Racing’s double Top-10 finish in the Coke Zero Sugar 400 regular season finale at Daytona International Speedway last weekend.
The team’s achievement was certainly a big deal but Messick was told not to tell anyone about the celebration. And sure enough, when the longtime trackside program manager showed up at the shop the surprise was actually on him and more importantly, for him.
Messick’s name has been placed over the passenger’s side window of driver Ryan Preece’s No. 15 Rick Ware Racing Ford this week – a virtual ride-along and important tribute to Messick, 51, who has worked in the NASCAR industry for almost 30 years.
It's all part of a unique and much-anticipated celebration, “Workforce Appreciation Weekend” for the Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway when the vast majority of NASCAR Cup Series teams will honor a dedicated worker in Labor Day weekend’s long-standing marquee event.
And in many cases – such as with Messick – they will honor one of their own.
“It’s pretty cool,’’ Messick said, the appreciation evident in his voice. “They did a good job [with the surprise].
“It was pretty special. I think the whole concept is super cool and I like the idea it’s honoring people from all different industries.”
Doing something “big” has become synonymous with Darlington race weekends. The historic track, which gives the green flag to the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs on Sunday night, has been a huge innovator in recent years - celebrating the sport and specifically, celebrating the people in the sport.
And an idea that was actually born two years ago during COVID, has now come to full fruition.
“Labor Day Weekend is a NASCAR tradition at Darlington Raceway, so we are proud to partner across the industry for the new Workforce Appreciation Weekend,’’ Darlington Raceway President Kerry Tharp said.
“We are grateful to the NASCAR Cup Series race teams for uniting with us to show our appreciation to the American workforce over our traditional Labor Day Weekend of NASCAR racing. We salute workers all across our nation and express our thanks for all they do to help keep our country strong.’’
The long list of those being honored this weekend varies from someone working for a team - like Messick- to John Adams, a longtime employee with driver Michael McDowell’s sponsor, Horizon Hobby, who will ride along on the No. 34 Front Row Motorsports FR8Auctions.com Ford.
Jim “Jungle” Gilbert will be on the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Valvoline Chevrolet driven by Playoff contender William Byron. Gilbert has worked in NASCAR 35 years as a hauler driver and mechanic and is currently battling Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS).
Kyle Busch’s No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Mars Wrigley Toyota will carry the name of Billie Simpson, who manages the HSE (Healthy Safety and Environmental) department for Mars Wrigley in Albany, Ga.
And there’s Terri Barricello, of Kannapolis, a senior service advisor at Hilbish Ford who has worked for Ford as a service writer in the industry for more than four decades. Her name will be on the side of the No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Motorcraft Ford. And that, the team says, was an easy and very popular decision.
“It was pretty much a no-brainer for us to have Terri on the car,’’ said Wood Brothers Racing Senior Vice President Jon Wood. “She’s deserving from the broader, bigger picture from Ford and Ford Performance. Everyone in the garage that’s involved with Ford would know who she was and that’s why it makes so much sense. We didn’t have to struggle with this [selection].
“She’s 'the one' you go to. And the thing I’ve learned is it’s more special when you work with somebody that has an appreciation for NASCAR and the sport. She probably knows where we qualify before I do. She’s just into it. So, it makes it more appropriate, a little bit more special when you call someone up and say, ‘hey, we’ve decided to pick you to honor.’ And she understands the gravity of what that means and how special it is.’’
The whole concept of honoring those that work so hard behind the scenes in the NASCAR industry – from sponsor to manufacturer to team – has not only been important but also enlightening. The opportunity to celebrate the very core of what sustains the sport has been a long time coming and looks to become yet another annual way NASCAR teams and the sanctioning body can thank those behind the scenes who make it all possible.
The concepts of hard work, reliability and allegiance are always top of mind in this sport.
“I think there’s a lot to be said for loyalty these days,’’ said Penske Racing driver Joey Logano, who will have Master Technician Ana Broyles on his No. 22 Penske Racing Snap-On Tools Ford.
“In relationships in the job place, loyalty is not as common as it used to be and I think when you hear that someone has worked at a job for 30 years [as Broyles has], that tells me everything I need to know about that person.
“I don’t even need to meet that person to know that’s a solid individual because that shows the integrity of their character.”