A few weeks back I had an opportunity to visit the farm home of Chris and Lori Stancill. Chris is a fourth generation North Carolina farmer, who along with his brother, farms 4,000-5,000 acres of grain crops, peanuts, and cotton.
Chris and Lori have two sons, John 17 and Ben 20. Both are local race car legends, with hundreds of trophies and ribbons to prove it. Ben is the race car equivalent of the pitcher in the old Robert Redford baseball movie, The Natural.
When he was seven years old, Ben’s grandfather — Lori’s father — introduced him to go-kart racing. Since that first race he has dominated the sport at every level, except for NASCAR. He currently drives in the NASCAR truck series and has driven in Nationwide events.
Blonde-haired, blue-eyed, soft-spoken, and articulate, Ben Stancill doesn’t aspire to be the next NASCAR superstar, though he has the talent to be. He wants to be a successful NASCAR driver who competes for the cup championship for the next 20 years or so and uses the vast audience of racing to promote agriculture.
Therein lies the Catch 22 — money. To get a ride, a first class ride, in the NASCAR truck circuit costs $2-$3 million a year, the Nationwide circuit is $3-$5 million and to really make some racing noise with one of the 43 cars that race on Sunday in the NASCAR cup series costing $12-$15 million.
Stancill Farms was able to sponsor Ben on the Hooters circuit and other more local race car circuits, but NASCAR is a little out of reach for the successful farming family.
Ben Stancill isn’t just a clean cut, nice looking, articulate country boy who grew up on a farm. He drives the tractors, sprays the crops, harvests the crops — even has his own 200 acres of peanuts. Ben Stancill is a farmer.
At the recent meeting of the Southeast Crop Production Association I held a round-table discussion with a group of industry leaders. When asked what is the one thing agriculture must do to meet the much publicized goal of doubling food production in the next 50 years, the unanimous answer was educate the general public to the vital importance of agriculture to our survival as a country.
Perhaps North Carolina Commissioner of Agriculture Steve Troxler says it best, when asked the same question. “We’ve got to make agriculture more urban friendly,” he says, adding the need to educate consumers is vital.
If some company or group of companies waved a $12-$15 million magic wand and Ben Stancill drove every NASCAR event in the big league of racing next year, agriculture would be sending a positive message to hundreds of millions of people via radio networks, national and international television networks, magazines, newspapers and multiple social channels on the Internet — not to mention the 2 million-3 million fans who attend NASCAR events annually.
At 20 years old and with his skills, Ben could easily race 20 years, be highly successful, get national and international promotional opportunities and conservatively take a positive message for agriculture to billions, yes billions, of people worldwide during his career.
Here’s how it could be done:
• Establish the Farming is Food, Fuel and Fiber Foundation.
• Have three companies or organizations with vested interests in general farming, farming for food, farming for fuel, and farming for fiber each commit to contribute $1.5 annually for three years.
• Spend $12 million to buy Ben Stancill into one of the top NASCAR racing teams. Paint the car green and put an orange sun on the roof, with 12 rays of sunlight coming off the roof to the name and logo of the 12 sponsors and link the sponsors to the Farming is Food, Fuel and Fiber race car title on the hood and back of the race car.
• Use the remaining $1.44 million to promote agriculture to other groups and use Ben Stancill as the base for such promotions.