Race relations

Posted on 01 Jul 2009 at 9:42am
By Rich Lopez Staff Writer

YFT benefit goes NASCAR with grown-ups playing with toys


BOYS AND THEIR TOYS: If all goes well, Youth First Texas’ Johnny Cooper hopes to make the Gaytona 500 an annual event. ARNOLD WAYNE JONES/Dallas Voice

The racetrack is not a 1.5-mile asphalt oval with a turn radius of 750 feet. It definitely doesn’t have a 2,250-foot long stretch with 45 pit stalls. Nope. With the sweltering summer sun on a cement parking lot, this is not the Daytona 500.

But it is the Gaytona 500 — and racecars aren’t even needed. Well, at least the kind the big boys play with. This is a race where quick fingers matter more than down-shifting a clutch, because these racecars are of the remote control kind.
"It’s gonna be awesome," says Johnny Cooper.

Gaytona 500 is Cooper’s baby. As the marketing and development director for Youth First Texas, his goal is to develop stability for the group through fundraising. Coming off a successful first event with the Hall Street Journal fundraiser at Zubar in March, Cooper saw the July 4 weekend as another opportunity to spread the word about YFT … and bring in some scratch.

"We had no real comprehensive plan to bring money in. My goal is to promote YFT within the community. It surprises me how many people don’t know about YFT and that we’re here and we’re a resource," he says.

Wanting more than just a barbecue, he thought nothing said Texan more than NASCAR; thus was born the Gaytona 500. YFT will take over the back parking lot of Station 4 and Sue Ellen’s with a 65-foot long track in the shape of a pink triangle. With five racing lanes, checkerboard finish lines and flag waving drag queens, Gaytona 500 will play out in heats in the heat. Prelim winners will compete for first, second and third place trophies.

"We’ve got a little over a dozen racecars sponsored for $500 and up to $2,500," he says. That’s a pretty big chunk of change, and YFT needs all of it — the group is about to move.

"The board just approved to relocate Youth First Texas to a new space. We’re growing and with the development in this area, we don’t have long-term stability in this space. We developed Gaytona 500 to fundraise for the new space. The lease should be signed this week," Cooper says.

Although they have raised a significant amount of money already, costs for the move along with renovations keep YFT in a deficit. For construction alone, they need up to $60,000 but Cooper’s plan is to raise a third of that over the summer. They expect to be moved in by October.

While the sponsors help YFT financially, Cooper hopes for a big turnout from the public. "Attendance is going to be crucial for us. It will generate funds. The $10 admission gives people free barbecue and plus, we’ll be selling cold drinks and having a raffle, "Cooper says.

It wouldn’t be NASCAR without the right merch either — who could pass up embroidered trucker hats and event tank tops?

One word should prick up your ears, though: Barbecue. Don’t expect dad’s grilling either. Providing food for the event will be Central 214 executive chef Blythe Beck, host of "The Naughty Kitchen" now filming for the Oxygen Network with her TV crew in town

"We are really excited about the national exposure," Cooper says.

In the meantime, he’ll take all the local exposure YFT can get. If all goes right this weekend, Cooper plans to make this an annual event. Armed with a strategy of getting money into the group, he now looks forward to its growth and of course, Youth First Texas’ newest home — a finish line he can’t wait to cross.

Sue Ellen’s parking lot on Throckmorton Street. July 5, noon–5 p.m. $10. Youthfirsttexas.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 3, 2009.

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