DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Army News Service, Feb. 14, 2009). - U.S. Army Racing driver Ryan Newman and Purple Heart recipient Sgt. 1st Class Samuel Potter met with about 650 high-school students in a tent adjacent to Daytona International Speedway Friday to discuss the NASCAR Army Educational Program.

They were joined for the panel discussion by Army recruiter Sgt. 1st Class William Wagoner; television broadcaster Matt Yocum, a NASCAR pit reporter for FOX ; and Alba Colon, General Motors' program manager for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

"Kids are our future," Newman said. "These kids here that are 16 to 18 years old are getting ready to make some huge decisions in their life, and being part of the Army or being a part of anything that makes their dreams come true is what we want to talk to them about. It's definitely special. We're trying to make a difference and make an impact.

"Basically, we want to tell them what our dreams were and how we made them come true so they can set their path for their lives. Chase your dreams, and if that's the U.S. Army, then that's great. We'd love to call you a hero in the future.

"We're not forcing anybody to do anything, we just want people to be able to know that the U.S. Army is a great place to be if you want to further your education and be a part of what it is to fight for our freedom."

Potter, 42, a native of Pensacola, Fla., who works at an Army recruiting station in Orlando, will serve as an honorary member of the U.S. Army Racing Team during Sunday's 51st running of Daytona 500.

"I don't know if I'm going to go over the wall," he said with a laugh. "But I'm going to be out there representing Ryan Newman and the U.S. Army."

Potter was awarded the Purple Heart after sustaining shrapnel injuries in his face, neck and upper arm when his truck contacted an improvised explosive device in Iraq on Aug. 7, 2004.

He also received a Bronze Star for meritorious service for his instrumental role in establishing guidelines to bolster security for his company's convoys in Iraq, where he proposed new rules for gun crews and convoy commanders. He suggested changes in weapon systems and tactics that became standard training for crews to help improve protection for convoy personnel.

"I'm not really a hometown hero," Potter told the students. "You guys are heroes. The Army has given me the opportunity to serve my country and protect our way of freedom. While serving in the United States Army, you travel. You see a lot of different places. You go to a lot of different countries. You realize when you come back home you appreciate what you have.

"That's why we want to talk to you guys about setting a goal. Go to school. Join the military. Whatever you do in life, do the best you can. If you want to go overseas and see how people live, you come back here to truly the best, and we take that for granted sometimes. So the Army has given me strength like no other. Come back and appreciate what I've got and stay Army strong."

Potter was responsible for more than 50 missions in Iraq as a convoy commander and 80 missions as a lead gunner who logged more than 20,000 miles in harm's way.

"The Army gave me strength like no other," he reiterated.

With the Army celebrating the Year of the NCO, Wagoner explained the difference between officers and non-commissioned officers.

Colon, who received a rousing welcome upon announcing that she hailed from Puerto Rico, shared the tale of working her way into the motorsports industry. Yocum, who attended nearby Daytona Beach Seabreeze High, emphasized the importance of discipline and goal-setting.

"I think every day when you wake up, you have to say, 'What's important today' What's my goal for today''" Yocum said. "Just like in the military, you have to have discipline and goals. If you don't have direction, then you pretty much just spin your wheels. You look at anyone who has found success - whether it's military, a car owner, driver or in broadcasting - you have to sit down and say, 'Where do I want to go'' And then you have to plan how to get there.

"Anything that is worthwhile has a difficult path. The biggest thing for students is to say, 'OK, this is my goal, this is what I want for my career,' and then set a disciplined path for how to get there. ... For everyone on this panel, there's something about their day job or hobby that just ignites that passion. When you find it, you know you've found a home.

"It's all about finding your passion, because really, a job is a job. But if you have something that pays for your living that you're passionate about, that's like hitting the lottery."

Newman expressed gratitude for being a member of the Army Strong Racing Team.

"When you're dedicated at something, whether you're a Soldier, a race-car driver or a broadcaster, you have to be strong," he said. "You have to be mentally strong to be able to tackle the tasks at hand.

"You have to maintain that physical and mental stamina and that strength that makes you a winner. For me, as a non-Soldier, I cannot be Army Strong, but I can exemplify what is Army Strong and I do my best every day to make the U.S. Army Chevrolet a winning contender."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16