Special kids experience Christmas magic at speedway

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 22, 2011

By Hugh Fisher
CONCORD — With a push of a button, Santa Claus switched on thousands of lights at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Tuesday.
The second annual Carolina Christmas celebration got under way with some extra-special guests in attendance.
Jill Wagoner, account executive at Miller Davis, is also a parent whose child attends Partners In Learning.
The Salisbury-based child development center cares for typical children as well as those with a variety of special needs.
Speedway Children’s Charities put out an invitation to care centers and other agencies so that children with special needs could be among the first to see the festive lights and the Christmas village at the racetrack.
Tuesday afternoon, about 60 children, parents, caregivers and staff left Salisbury on two buses, bound for a Winter Wonderland.
“It’s really special to be able to offer this,” Director Norma Honeycutt said as the bus wound its way through the light displays toward the speedway entrance.
Every window was full of children’s faces. Hands pointed. Kids cheered and shouted their discoveries:
“Look at the trees!”
“Look at the candy canes!”
“Look, there’s deers!”
“Oh my gosh, it’s awesome!” Honeycutt said, as she held her 6-year-old grandson, Carter, on her lap.
And that was just the beginning.
As a parent and a “Nana” herself, she said, she recognizes the costs involved in both time and money to parents of special needs children.
“So much of (the families’) money goes to take care of their children’s medical needs,” she said.
Tuesday, those families got to relax and enjoy free hot cocoa, games and exhibits.
There was even visit to Bethlehem, where live actors — volunteers from area churches — portray the Holy Family and the people of the town.
“They didn’t have to pay for gas, anything,” Honeycutt said. “Everything’s provided.”
The few extra seats were given to some staff members and their families so that they could give their children an early holiday treat.
For 6-year-old Alex Stewart, the most fun was getting to see Santa, who parachuted from a plane passing overhead to take part in the opening ceremony.
His father, Scott Stewart of Salisbury, said it was great to share that experience with his son.
Deborah Howell, assistant director, joked that her favorite moment was getting to drive on the track at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
On a more serious note, Howell said she was pleased that Partners In Learning could offer the experience to parents.
“This isn’t the kind of trip that we as an organization would have been able to sponsor and pay for,” Howell said.
Wagoner said that this year’s light show has some improvements over last year’s inaugural event.
“The drive on the track is longer,” she said. “The lights are bigger and better.”
And Wagoner said she was glad to play a small part in making other parents’ and kids’ lives easier
“Raising a child with special needs brings a lot of challenges,” Wagoner said.
Not only for them and their parents, but for other children in the family, she added.
“For those children to have an opportunity to come and experience something like this is great,” Wagoner said.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.