I hate missing out on unique and rare opportunities in life, which is why I try as many new things as I possibly can.
One such opportunity came to me last Wednesday, when our Sports Editor Jocelyn Sheets asked me if I wanted if I wanted to ride in a NASCAR Hauler during Thursday’s parade. Without hesitation my answer was, “Yes!”
Fast forward about 24 hours later, and there I am standing west of the grandstands at Iowa Speedway being accompanied by Amanda Ellis from NASCAR to meet Matt Weaver. Matt is tasked with hauling Regan Smith’s car cross country for JR Motorsports.
Regan competes in the Nationwide series and is the driver of the No. 7 Chevrolet Camaro. He is currently sitting in second place in the series standings.
After a few photos and quick introductions, Matt and I were left alone in his hauler which is surprisingly nice on the inside. I’m talking about leather seats and polished wood grain dash nice. Maybe not everyone would be impressed, but when you drive a car with cloth seats and some random “space-age” materials for a dash, you notice and appreciate the little things.
Rather than sit there in awkward silence and snap photos out the window for the entirety of the ride, I decided I wanted to get to know Matt and let him learn a bit more about me.
He’s originally from New Hampshire, however, he has spent the last 15 years living and working in North Carolina, which gives him this awesome hybrid accent of Southern twang and East Coast enunciation.
He really enjoys his job, and Regan is the seventh or eighth driver he has worked with.
“It’s very adventurous. You feel blessed that you are one of 80 people that get to do this job, you know, between the Nationwide and Sprint cup series. It’s a fun job. It’s your family out there you know,” he said.
I also found out that his favorite stop on the circuit is Richmond, Va. Curiosity got the best of me and I had to ask what his thoughts were on Newton, and he was honest with me.
Matt let me know that he scarcely spent time here during previous stops. Protocol for them usually means drive to a town, unload equipment, pick up the rental car, eat, check in at the hotel and then sleep. They wake up, get to the speedway and hang out until the race is done, load up and prepare to do it all over again next week.
As a guy who’s gung-ho about this town, I was completely understanding of the situation. If I had the choice after driving a truck from North Carolina to Iowa between exploring a town or sleep, sleep would win hands down each time.
Luckily for us, the parade went right down First Avenue and with me as his tour guide, I gave Matt a quick lesson on Newton as we drove through. He loved the older homes; he was impressed with the new veterans memorial; and he got to see a fair amount of Newtonians lining the street.
If there was one thing I wanted Matt to take away from our venture, it was how the people that make up this town are what makes it such a great place to live.
As we were driving through town, he got to see a glimpse of the kinds of people that make up this community. We saw everyone from babies in strollers to octogenarians in town waiting on us as we passed by, all happy to spend a portion of their evening supporting this event.
He said Nationwide only does three or four of these Hauler Parades during the season, which lasts from February until November.
I also watched Matt get more into the parade as we traveled. He was returning smiles and waves, and obliged just about every time a little kid — and some adults — made the “pull your horn” gesture with their arm.
“I see why you like it here so much,” he told me.
As I was observing him I was rotating between snapping photos, pointing out people I knew in the crowd and returning waves myself. I also realized that as much as I love traveling, I could never do it to the extent that Matt and the other hauler drivers do it.
Overall, I have to say it was pretty cool experience getting to ride shotgun in the hauler, and I thought the turnout was great for a random Thursday evening.
While it may have taken him awhile — the first Nationwide race was awarded to Iowa Speedway in 2009 — I really thought Matt enjoyed the town now that he finally got to experience it. As a reporter though, I know I have to watch making assumptions and just ask.
On our way back to the speedway, I did just that, to see if he developed any new views on the town during our jaunt through it.
“I like it. I like the history of it, it’s nice — homey,” he said.
In the end, Matt showed me a great time in his “home away from home” and I think I did the same thing. Maybe next year, when they return to Iowa, I can take him out for karaoke night. I’ll even drive.
Contact Senior Staff Writer Ty Rushing at (641) 792-3121 Ext. 6532 or firstname.lastname@example.org