It’s a long way from the Hy-Vee parking lot to the top of Mt. Phillips, but race fans helped my son and I get there.
Mt. Phillips is a 11,742-foot peak in New Mexico. It’s named for Waite Phillips, a onetime Knoxville resident who got rich in the oil and gas business a century ago. The mountain rises from a vast spread of land that Phillips donated to the Boy Scouts.
Phillips’ generosity was incredible, as is the land he donated, but it’s still not cheap to go there. That’s where the race fans come in.
Our local scouts are among many groups that have benefitted through the years from the Knoxville Nationals and other events at the raceway. On more Saturday nights than I can count for a half-dozen years, I helped the scouts park cars on the Hy-Vee lot. The store gave scouting families the opportunity to make money from race fans who’d park just east of the track.
Things got crazier during Nationals. There was more money to be made, but running the lot took a lot more folks for a lot more time.
The payoff for the scouts came at places like Mt. Phillips. Unlike Waite Phillips, I can’t easily afford to send my son to amazing places to hike, canoe, ski and otherwise be amazed. The money we and other scout families earned on that hot lot every summer made the difference.
We also have served quite a bit of barbecue at the scholarship foundation’s tent. What comes from race fans’ wallets helped us send our kids to college. Indeed, so many non-profits and hundreds of local people and businesses benefit from the annual migration of bright-shirted sprint car fans about to descend upon us.
Some folks see Nationals as a nuisance. At times, it’s hard to tell the difference between Highway 14 and the Hy-Vee parking lot. Wise local folks stock up ahead of time on milk and bread as if Ed Wilson has just forecast an August blizzard. There never seems to be quite enough parking spaces, camping spaces or porta-potties.
And sometimes there’s not quite enough patience to go around, either. While most race fans are thrilled to be in Knoxville, they might not be thrilled with certain situations or their costs. Scouts and their parents sometimes would deal, for example, with fans who thought buying a 12-pack at the store made them a customer entitled to park for the next five hours. Those who chose not to listen to reasoning might find their vehicles at the tow lot.
Here’s the reality: It’s hot, it’s crowded and stuff costs money. Accepting that is a first step toward a happy Nationals. Beyond that, though, it was good to see the Chamber of Commerce offer hospitality training last week and better still to see how many attended. We don’t just want our visitors to have a great experience — we want them to come back.
In that spirit, whether you’re a visitor or a host, welcome to Nationals! I’m glad you’re here and, before the hot laps begin, let me share a little scout wisdom. It doesn’t matter:
n whether you prefer Schatz, Madsen, Brown or none of the above…
n whether you’re the guy stuck behind that golf cart or the guy driving it…
n whether you’re spending money or receiving it…
Take a lesson from the scouts. Be helpful, friendly, courteous, kind and cheerful. Those are words to live by, and they’ll make the Nationals — and our community — a lot more livable.