NASCAR should be state sport, students say


— North Carolina's list of 38 state symbols ranges from its official dog (the plott hound) to its official carnivorous plant (the Venus flytrap).

One symbol it lacks is a state sport. But a group of students at Lake Norman Elementary School north of Charlotte has quietly worked for nine months in hopes of getting the state legislature to finally name one: stock-car racing.

"State symbols tell us what's important to a state, and stock-car racing continues to provide lots of jobs and teachers to train people" in the industry, said Tanner Orr, 11, a sixth-grader at Mount Mourne IB World School.

The students kept their project secret from their classmates and even their parents at first, two of whom work for top Mooresville-based motorsports teams. They didn't want word to leak and have someone trump them with another sport, according to student Madison Sommer, 10. Basketball, for instance.

The students worked with state Rep. Grey Mills, R-Mooresville, who has drafted a bill designating stock-car racing as the state sport. Mills said he's getting input from prospective sponsors and co-sponsors in the House and from others familiar with stock-car racing.

Mills said lawmakers are trying to incorporate much of the students' proposed wording into the bill.

The Iredell-Statesville Board of Education unanimously endorsed the students' effort in January, and the Mooresville Board of Commissioners added their support Monday.

If the students succeed, North Carolina would join only nine other states with official state sports.

Most of the 13 students were in fourth grade last spring when teacher Nettie Gambill asked for volunteers on a state symbol project. Eleven of the students are known as "pit crew members" on the project.

Students learned about stock-car racing's importance to the state, that 90 percent of the teams are based in North Carolina and that the NASCAR Hall of Fame is in Charlotte. The students live in a town nicknamed "Race City USA" for its many motorsports teams.

They learned about the sport's economic impact from Craig Depken, associate professor of economics at UNC Charlotte, and about its history from Dan Pierce, chairman of the history department at UNC Asheville.

Their parents took them on field trips that included the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Another sport, basketball, could arguably rival racing as the official sport.

But student Sierra Bice noted Massachusetts already claims basketball as its state sport and is home to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Sierra said it's only logical that North Carolina, with its NASCAR Hall of Fame, designate stock-car racing.

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