Linemen put their lives on the line every day to provide reliable power to customers, but they are often behind the scenes rather than in the spotlight. To celebrate these unsung heroes, Gateway Motorsports Park dedicated a second race to linemen.
More than 18,000 fans packed the stands at the Madison, Illinois, racetrack June 13 for the American Ethanol Presents Drivin’ for Linemen 200. During the race, MAKE Motorsports Car No. 50 sped around the 1.25-mile oval course to honor all lineworkers nationwide. Following a rain delay start to the race, the competitors raced 160 laps (200 miles) around the down straightaways and around tight turns. In the end, 17-year-old Cole Custer of JB Motorsports celebrated his first victory of the racing season by being the first to cross the finish line.
For the second year in a row, Elite Utility Support served as the main sponsor of the race for two key reasons: to create awareness about linemen as first responders and to recognize the work of the Fallen Linemen Organization, which helps the families of electrical workers, and the International Lineman’s Museum, which promotes the history and relevance of linemen to the American way of life. In 2014, Chad Dubea, the president of Elite Utility Support and former lineman and CEO of a utility service company, led the way to name the race Drivin’ for Linemen 200 to raise national awareness of electrical linemen as first responders.
Ameren also came back for a second year to sponsor. Richard J. Mark, president of Ameren Illinois, says there are many parallels between a professional truck race and the work utility crews do every day. “Effective communication, utilization of the latest technology and a commitment to safety are all critical, whether it’s winning a race or keeping the lights on,” Mark says.
Susan Ryan, a spokesperson for Gateway Motorsports Park, says Curtis Francois, the owner of Gateway Motorsports Park, and the team were thrilled to have Ameren as a sponsor for the nationally televised race, which also celebrated Scott Air Force Day. “Ameren’s support helps the overall mission of the race and it promotes goodwill within the community,” she says. “We also think it’s good for Ameren to be a part of an event that promotes family, fun and safety.”
During this year’s race, the organizers and the sponsors tried to draw as many linemen’s families as possible to the event. As the first track in the country to give free admission to children aged 15 years old and under, Gateway Motorsports Park is dedicated to making the venue a family-friendly place to relax and be together.
“We had more families attend the race this year than last year, and that was a primary goal for the event,” she says. “While we don’t have official data, it did appear as though more linemen attended the race this year than last year. The stands were certainly full, and we met dozens of families who said they had a family member who is a linemen.”
The families were able to not only watch the race but also listen to live music from country and classic rock performers, participate in an autograph session with a professional mixed martial artist, see NASCAR drivers and Olympic gold medal athlete Jackie Joyner-Kersee, and enjoy a ride on the U.S. Air Force Rapid Strike simulator.
In addition, the pre-race ceremonies included a salute to past, present and future linemen in the St. Louis area and nationwide. The cities of St. Louis and Madison also dedicated the race day — June 13, 2015 — as Past, Present, Future Electric Linemen and Fallen Linemen Day as well as First Responders Recognition Day.
Next year, the organizers are planning to have the third-annual event in mid-June, and they are hoping to add more entertainment during the daytime and evening than ever before, Ryan says.
“We will continue with the live music, and we are considering other types of thrill show entertainment, similar to what fans may see at a monster truck show.”
By dedicating the NASCAR race to linemen, Gateway Motorsports Park was able to raise awareness for a great cause and also for St. Louis and southern Illinois as a spot for families and entertainment, Ryan says.
“With some experience under our belts, we think this year was a great success,” Ryan says.