PARIS - Retired NASCAR driver Ricky Craven told several hundred students Thursday that reading is something that will be important to them for the rest of their lives.
"You'll benefit from it forever," he told the 300-plus students gathered in the gymnasium to meet the Maine native, winner of all three of NASCAR's top racing series.
The event was one of the highlights of the six-week reading program at Paris Elementary School intended to get students reading. This year, the theme of "Revved Up For Reading" is race car driving.
Principal Jane Fahey said each grade level established reading goals and students use punch cards to record how many minutes or books they read, or for younger children who do not read, the time someone spent reading to them. The PTO was instrumental in bringing Craven to Paris and decorating the school with racing memorabilia.
Craven, born and raised in Newburgh, began his race car career at the age of 15, going on to win the 1991 TD Banknorth 250 at Oxford Plains Speedway, racing in the Busch race series and the Winston Cup, and touring with the NASCAR series.
Craven now works as an analyst for ESPN Hot Shots and online with Yahoo sports. He told students that the first book he read was "The Box Car Children," and the most recent book was "The Art of Racing in the Rain," the story of a dog who comes back as a race car driver.
"I enjoy reading," he told students as they raised their hands eagerly to ask him questions, such as "How fast does your car go?"
Craven, who will remain in Maine this weekend to host his annual fundraising fishing derby, said the two hardest jobs in the world are being a parent and being a teacher.
"There's no playbook as a parent," he said.
Craven said he flew up Thursday from Charlotte, N.C., where he lives. He told the students, school was called off there because of less than an inch of snow that fell. School officials called it off the night before the snow arrived, he said to the laughter of the students.
Attitude, effort and opportunity are the three attributes that he told students will help lead them through a successful life.
The students also saw a short video about Craven's racing career and 25 of the student's reading punch cards were pulled out of bucket randomly for prizes, such as a Ricky Craven poster.
Craven also brought an autographed NASCAR yearbook to present to the school for its library.
As he awarded the prizes, he asked each student what they would like to be when they grow up. Students told him they wanted to be a policeman, a nurse and other professions.
"I want to be a race car driver," said one young girl with a beam.
Later, Craven signed a soapbox derby car that is part of the racing memorabilia at the elementary school during the reading program. The car will be auctioned to help raise funds for the West Paris soapbox derby track. - www.sunjournal.com
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