On a day of firsts for ACU graduate Randy Hill (’90) and his new NASCAR racing team – as well as his alma mater – 19-year-old Casey Roderick drove purple car No. 39 with an Abilene Christian University logo on its hood to a 25th-place finish in the Zippo 200 at legendary Watkins Glen International in New York.
Roderick, the young driver of Randy Hill Racing’s No. 8 Chevy Impala and Ford Mustang with no previous experience at Watkins Glen, was in a different Mustang this week as he worked his way around the course until a minor collision near the end of the 200.9-mile race halted his progress. The event was run before a crowd of 40,000 and broadcast live by ESPN.
Allowing ACU to serve as a free sponsor for the car was the idea of Hill, whose generous gift meant the Mustang would carry one of his alma mater’s colors (purple), and logo and URL address on the hood and back bumper. The Zippo 200 was his upstart racing team’s first NASCAR Nationwide Series event, and until today, no university is believed to have ever sponsored a car in a NASCAR race.
“The opportunity to bring Abilene Christian University on board for our debut seems only fitting,” said Hill. “The university has done so much for me and others; I want everyone to know just how great of a place ACU really is and what it can offer to others.”
The Busch brothers – Kurt and Kyle – battled for the Zippo lead before Kurt’s No. 22 Penske Dodge edged Jimmy Johnson’s No. 7 Chevy for the victory. Joey Logano finished third and Kyle Busch was fourth. Kurt Busch also won this event in 2006.
The old video game racing mantra, “turn left and drive as fast as you can,” might apply at times to a real-life race car driver’s strategy at many NASCAR events run on oval tracks with long straightaways and four high-banked corners, but not at Watkins Glen. The venerable race track in the Finger Lakes region of Western New York features a rambling road course with seven turns, major elevation changes and treacherous changes of direction.
In fact, Roderick’s car became tangled with another with less than five laps remaining in what is normally an 82-lap race, causing the event to end under a green-white-checker flag for only the second time in the Zippo 200 series. Roderick was able to finish, however, and not injured.
The Zippo 200 is one of only three road-race style events in the Nationwide Series each year, and the only one held on American soil in this series.
“I’m thrilled we finished the race,” Hill said. “We had a few minor setbacks, but when I think about Casey’s age – you know – he’s only 19. When I was 19, I was just starting at ACU and it was my first month away from home, and look what this kid is doing in NASCAR.”
“We had a great day today,” said ACU chief information and planning officer Kevin Roberts (’88), who attended the race with director of public relations Grant Rampy (’87). “It was a disappointing end, but it was still a neat opportunity for Randy Hill Racing and ACU to get some great exposure.”
Hill said he was “tickled to death” at his young team’s performance.
“It was great to have ACU on the car.” Ironically, “Even in a wreck,” he said with a laugh, “we get a lot of attention and exposure, and that’s good for the university and for our message.”
A successful businessman and entrepreneur who lives in Baird, Texas, Hill is a strong supporter of education who has helped provide iPads to K-12 private schools. Hill began an initiative in December 2010 that has provided iPads for teachers at Dallas Christian School and Abilene Christian Schools. Recently, Hill partnered with ACU to help provide an iPad 2 for each student at DCS. Earlier this year, Gov. Rick Perry appointed Hill to the Texas Emerging Technology Fund Advisory Committee.