By Seth Eggert, Associate Editor
MOORESVILLE, N.C. – The annual story of bringing holiday joy to children through the North Carolina Auto Racing Hall of Fame’s Stocks for Tots charity event is practically cemented with PHAROS Parenting.
PHAROS and Stocks for Tots’ Connected History
As a result of the 2022 event, organized by Don Miller, along with other fundraisers, PHAROS touched 721 lives in 2023. That accounted for 260 parenting classes, 500 in-home visits, and 400 supervised visits. All of that is in the name of preventing child abuse and supporting the victims of child abuse.
Between the tickets that the event has sold and the toys that race fans, and industry insiders, have donated, the stress of the holiday season is often lifted, or lessened for the families that PHAROS works with.
“I can’t (describe) for 30 years Stocks for Tots have provided Christmas to our families, which eliminates a lot of stress from them at Christmas and they already have a lot of financial burden, and it is eliminating that one stressor can make a huge difference,” Tonya Fowler, Pharos Executive Director said.
“Not only are they, the N.C. Auto Racing Hall of Fame, helping provide toys at Christmas, but the financial donation that they make helps us provide programs all year to prevent child abuse. with parenting classes, parental education, and home parent aid to try to help break that cycle of abuse. It is a huge part of what we’re able to do throughout the year.”
The first Stocks for Tots event was held in 1989. That was two years after the Statesville, N.C. based PHAROS opened. Every year since then, minus 2020 due to COVID restrictions, the charity event has raised money and awareness for at-risk families in Iredell County, N.C. and the surrounding area.
“That’s what makes this event specifically so interesting is it has intertwined itself with our very existence,” Fowler explained. “We kind of started around the same time, (PHAROS) opened in 1987, this started in 1989. They immediately started doing this as a fundraiser for us. We’ve really never been without them. The racing community and child abuse prevention have gone together ever since we opened, and that’s been really cool.
“Over the years this has helped thousands, thousands of families. This past year we directly impacted 700 lives. If you multiply that by 30, we’re at tens of thousands of kids have been affected by just this event alone just this event. Not to mention all the other support and events that we have, throughout the year.”
Drivers, media, and race fans alike travel to Mooresville to participate in the event at the Charles Mack Citizen Center. NASCAR legends such as Dave Marcis, media such as NASCAR on FOX’s Bob Pockrass, and drivers are active, recently semi-retired, up-and-coming, such as Ryan Vargas, Ryan Newman, and Justice Calabro all take time out of their off-season to support the community.
“People come from all over the country for this event to this little town of Mooresville, N.C.,” Fowler said. “It is unbelievable how much good is in this room and how far that good spreads across the country.”
For the first time in the event’s history, tickets were sold out a month in advance. While 50 fewer tickets were available, it allowed for the event to run more smoothly and made the experience more special for the fans.
“It was a sellout three or four weeks ahead of time,” Miller said. “What was really good was that we have a chance to run at what we knew we were going to have, right. And it went so smooth tonight. I couldn’t believe it.
“I mean, (everyone from the Hall) did a really super bang-up job on it. And I said I told Ryan (Newman) a little while ago. I said, ‘well, if they all went this smooth, we could do them every week.’ He goes, ‘I don’tthink so.’ It was a wonderful thing. That’s always good at Christmas, people forget what Christmas is allabout.”
The impact that Stocks for Tots has one those that take part is a lasting one. It gives everyone a sense of gratitude for what they have, but also allows them to empathize with those less fortunate. It creates a sense of humbleness for everyone as they give help children in the community.
The scope of that impact, however, is one that is hard to quantify. 721 lives were touched by PHAROS in 2023. Stocks for Tots being in its’ 34th year, has touched thousands of lives, hundreds, if not thousands of families. However, as Miller stated, even if it was only one child that was saved, it would be worth.
“I think it has an impact in the industry, but more than that, I think this event especially has a has a bigimpact and the community, the people, and the social services, they got to be happy and the children, of course,” Miller emphasized. “I think that’s the biggest thing to bring is giving them a Christmas that they might not have had.”
“I don’t know (if the scope of how many lives we’ve touched will ever sink in),” Miller admitted. “I know it’shundreds, but I’m going to tell you this. Even if it was only one, it would be something worth doing, wouldn’t it? To save one child? It is just amazing to me, people that have a family, they understand.”
Understanding the Generosity
Miller’s efforts through Stocks for Tots, much like Vargas, earned him the Fourth Quarter National Motorsports Press Association’s Pocono Spirit Award. Vargas earned the First Quarter award for his efforts with the FACES charity. The NASCAR Xfinity Series driver understands that some families don’t get to enjoy the holidays. Being able to spend some time with fans, signing autographs, gives Vargas, and others, a chance to give back.
“It’s a really cool event that the North Carolina Racing Hall of Fame puts together to raise funds for so many people to just bring some joy to the holidays,” Vargas said. “A lot of people don’t get the luxury of having a nice holidays with family or don’t have the luxury of those opportunities. So, to be able to be a small part of this and be able to sign some autographs for some really generous fans, that’s incredible.”
The generosity of the fans and the industry can be overwhelming. Though the motorsports industry can sometimes be a dysfunctional family, it’s a family, nonetheless. That familiar feeling, to help those in need, helps bring everyone together, regardless of how their season went, how they may have been raced by others, and their future moving forward.
For PHAROS itself, Stocks for Tots is a hidden gem. The event is a specialty for representatives from PHAROS.
“I am so excited to just watch the faces of adults, children, everybody all come together for a great cause and getting something awesome out of it and to have something like this in Mooresville is so special,” Anna Campbell, PHAROS Development Director said. “It’s such a gem to have here. It is overwhelming and there’s so many people that don’t know what we do and so through Stocks for Tots, we’re getting our name out in the community and people can understand the things that we can do to help all of the families here and to break that generational cycle of child abuse.”
That generosity encourages race fans to attend Stocks for Tots every year. One fan, Chip Wilson, considers the autographs secondary to being able to help contribute to the betterment of children in the local community. Combined, Wilson and his friends got over 50 autographs from Ron Hornaday, Kevin Lepage, Matt DiBenedetto, and others.
“(Knowing that the money, the time helps children) really does make this special, it makes the autographs kind of the second reason for coming,” Wilson said. “The more kids you can help, the better it makes it. The drivers, autographs, photos, and the meet and greet is just icing on the cake. You know that at the end of the day you’ve done something good for the community and especially for the kids.”
Of those that attend and participate in Stocks for Tots, the one driver that always surprises Wilson is NTT IndyCar Series champion Will Power. The gathering of industry insiders that participate in the event gives fans a wider range of access that they might not receive elsewhere. While that access comes with the price of a ticket, all fans that purchase one or donate a toy know that it helps touch the life of a child from an at-risk family.
“Will Power, IndyCar champion, he’s a huge driver,” Wilson said. “The fact that he takes time out of his busy, busy offseason is incredible. That he’s here and spends time with us blows me away.”
Connecting with Stocks for Tots
Just being invited to participate not only is a privilege, but eye-opening. Calabro is one that, before he was invited in 2021, never expected to be able to participate. He is one that is able to connect to what Stocks for Tots is about, what the mission of the event is. The weight of being able to help children, help families, is one that Calabro is humbled to be able to help carry with others at Stocks for Tots.
“Renee Perks, Miss Winston Cup, she first told me about this event and told me that I actually had an opportunity to come here, my eyes lit up” Calabro recalled. “Stocks for Tots has been around since (1989). They’ve raised over $1,000,000. I think this year we’re peaking over 70,000 toys, maybe 85,000 and this is just really special that this event has touched it each year, if I had to ballpark it, probably 10-15,000 lives (in its’ history).
“Anytime you get a chance to give back to the community, especially kids, you don’t have leverage and control over your environment and you’re at the will of society and your parents. I was blessed to be raised in a beautiful family, but I was around a lot of people who aren’t, and some of my closest friends did not have that gift when they were younger.
“So there’s a really, really deep place in my heart for being able to give back and give some beautiful moments back to these kids, especially those who have been through things that I would never wish upon any human being, so really special to be here and serving in whatever way that I can most profoundly showing up and being surrounded by so many incredible souls who are here to do the same thing.”
Ultimately, the impact that Stocks for Tots has had over the years, and will have moving forward, is immeasurable. Though the number of lives touched in 2023 was 721, that’s just how many were directly affected by PHAROS and Stocks for Tots in the short term. In the long term, that creates a chain that has the potential to improve someone’s life for years to come.