Maine FFA Chapter maximize National Convention experience

Episode 236

October 28, 2018

FFA Members’ Indy Gearhead Tour

Five members of the Mars Hill FFA (formerly Future Farmers of America) Chapter along with chaperones and Advisor Whitney Williams made the trek to the 91st National FFA Convention in Indianapolis, Indiana. Those members earned the right to attend the largest high school youth convention in the United States by accumulating participation points throughout the year. (2018 attendance announced to be 69,500)

FFA activities available to members included sessions at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse and Convention Center featuring motivational speakers including Microsoft Philanthropies’ Mary Snapp, dozens of student and teachers workshops, Career Show and Expo, educational tours, community service activities, and Garth Brooks in concert.

Thursday was a special day for the Mars Hill FFA members who spent the day on a “Gearhead Tour” . The day began with a visit to Ganassi Racing in Indianapolis. This is the IndyCar headquarters for Ganassi. Mars Hill members learned about the attention to detail and professionalism required to compete at the top-level of open wheel racing in America.

FFA members in the back room of Ganassi Racing where owner Chip Ganassi has stacked his noteworthy IndyCars like cordwood. Photo taking at the race shop was limited due to the competitiveness of the teams in IndyCar. FFA members noted that you could eat off the floor of the facility. (Darick Williams photo)

Nick Bradstreet noted, “Mitchell and Bryant both talked about meeting Kody and how much fun it was to race against him head to head. I was more interested in the car shop we were at (Ganassi Racing) and what they talked about there, and showed us all the different parts of the shop they need to get the cars ready for race day.”

I liked how the guys at Ganassi Racing were very welcoming and open to all questions,” added Brandon Wright. “They talked about everything and didn’t leave anything out.”

After the Ganassi Race Shop tour, Mars Hill FFA members met 4-time USAC Silver Crown champion, Kody Swanson, at Fastimes Indoor Karting in northern Indianapolis. Swanson, himself a former FFA member from Kingsburg, California, shared in conversation with the members. It was then time to try their skill on the track racing with Swanson. Left to right Brandon Wright, Nick Bradstreet, Samantha McCrum, Kody Swanson, Mitchell Grass and Bryant Grass. (Darick Williams photo)

Mars Hill FFA member, Bryant Grass, commented about racing against Kody Swanson, “Racing Kody made me realize how fast professional racers are and how slow I am.”

“What Bryant said was very much true,” said fellow FFA member Mitchell Grass. ” Meeting a professional race car driver and actually racing against him was a lot of fun.”

FFA Chapter Advisor, Whitney Williams who has driven my HTF Motorsports racing kart at Spud Speedway, said, “I didn’t race this time (due to time) but will definitely be putting this down on my bucket list! That was fantastic! Thank you so much for contacting Kody on our behalf. He is one cool cat and the kids had a fantastic time racing him. We are all still laughing.”

The finale to the “Gearhead Tour” was a visit to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Museum. On the track tour, Indy welcomed FFA members by lighting up the iconic scoring pole on the main straight. (Darick Williams photo)

One cannot visit Indianapolis Motor Speedway without seeing the “Yard of Bricks” at the start/finish line. Kissing the bricks began with Dale Jarrett after winning the Brickyard 400 in 1996 and has become a part of every victory celebration. (Darick Williams photo)

Samantha McCrum, noting the history of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, “I thought that going to Indianapolis Motor Speedway was a fantastic opportunity for everyone that went. Even if you don’t enjoy racing you would still like going there and learning about the history behind the track and kissing the bricks.”

Hunter’s Honey Farm, Martinsville, Indiana: Bryant Grass, Nick Bradstreet (bee), Brent Grass (parent and wannabe beekeeper), Samantha McCrum, Mitchell Grass, and Brandon Wright. (Whitney Williams photo)

Mars Hill members visited the National FFA Center headquartered in Indianapolis, Indiana. The building is visible from Interstate 465 West. (Darick Williams photo)

Mars Hill FFA members join with over 12,000 members converging off the escalators at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse to attend one of the nine general sessions. This year’s theme is Just One. “One moment, one encounter, one opportunity is all it takes to radically change the course of our lives”. (Darick Williams photo)

President Trump addresses FFA members at Convention

President Trump became only the fourth sitting United States President to address FFA members at a National Convention in the 91 year history of the FFA  (photo courtesy Jenna Watson/Indy Star)

President Trump talked to FFA members at the Saturday afternoon session. This was only the fourth time in the 91 year history of the National FFA that a sitting President of the United States spoke live at their convention. The last to do so was President Bush number one in 1991 in Kansas City, Missouri.

Mars Hill FFA Advisor, Whitney Williams said this about President Trump’s visit, ” My highlight of the trip was watching the students excitedly awaiting President Trump’s address. It was extremely fulfilling knowing that I played an, albeit small role, in their ability to witness one of our nation’s leaders specifically address their future’s as agriculturalists.”

Some other FFA National Convention trivia:

  1. The Garth Brooks concert attendance Wednesday evening was the most at any previous convention.
  2. John Deere was recognized as the longest running corporate sponsor of the FFA, 75 years
  3. Culver’s Frozen Custards broke record and handed out over 35,000 bowls of samples.
  4. The wait to get tickets for President Trump appearance was 3.5 hours.

Karting racing notes

Damian Theriault, Caribou, with the trophies he won in 2018 in races at Route 106 Race Park, New Hampshire, Richmond Karting Speedway, Speedway Karting, Hermon, and Spud Speedway, Caribou. The 16-year-old raced in 32 feature kart races!. Theriault placed 2nd in only four races, and secured 28 checker flags and four Championships. (Team JRT photo)

In addition to racing karts, Theriault raced in two enduro stock car races at Spud Speedway. One of those races netted him a top 10.

“It was definitely a great season securing four different championships,” said Theriault. ” I couldn’t have done it without my parents, Gramp Marcel, Mimi, Great Gram Larrabee, or my sponsors. We found some competition at Richmond, which made it interesting. I can say that this has been the best season yet.”

Colby Martin son of Oxford Plains Speedway Super Late Model racer and County native, Shawn Martin wins the Halloween Howler at Route 106 Race Park, Pembroke, New Hampshire. Martin beat a field of four karts in the Rookie Class. He represented Richmond Karting Speedway. They commented that this track was one of the best they have seen. Shawn Martin remarked, “There is nothing better than watching your son race and do well.” (Colby Martin Racing photo)

 Robert Wickens makes clear his condition as a paraplegic

FORT WORTH, TX – JUNE 08: Robert Wickens, driver of the #6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda, stands on the grid following practice for the Verizon IndyCar Series DXC Technology 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 8, 2018 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Robert Wickens in the fence at Pocono 2018. Ryan Hunter-Reay in the yellow car was also involved. (Todd Dziadosz/LAT Images)

Wickens on Twitter, “Did my first slide transfer as a paraplegic today. My upper body is getting stronger and stronger and hopefully I’ll be able to do it unassisted soon.”

“I’ve only been posting videos of the small movement in my legs, but the reality is I am far away from walking on my own. Some people are a bit confused with the severity of my injury, so I wanted let you know the reality of it. I’ve never worked harder for anything in my life, and I am giving it all I’ve got to spark those nerves in my legs.”

Team co-owner Sam Schmidt  and fellow SPM owner Ric Peterson have vowed to have a car waiting for Wickens to drive when he is able. Schmidt crashed an IndyCar at Walt Disney World Speedway on January 6, 2000. The accident rendered him a quadriplegic, and put him on a respirator for five months.

Time to pray for Robert Wickens.

Let’s go racing,

Tom Hale

Soli Deo Gloria

Matthew 5:16



Tom Hale

About Tom Hale

Tom wrote 14 years as freelancer for the Bangor Daily Sports covering motorsports in Maine. Now blogging and concentrating on human interest stories about people and places in racing. He races Champ Karts and owns HTF Motorsports in remote Westmanland, Maine