Friday, July 18, 2014

Ethanol Powered Weekend

It's hard to believe the biggest project of my internship with Iowa Corn is over and the summer is half gone! This past weekend I was blessed to work with an amazing group of people from our office, Iowa Speedway, and several other organizations to pull off an exciting weekend showcasing the power of ethanol. There was a lot of behind the scenes preparation and promotion before the event and it was great to learn from so many experts as we got ready. I will never think of a sporting event the same!

As soon as my internship started, I spent a lot of time organizing spreadsheets and making phone calls to make sure we got all 3,000 of our VIP guests the right tickets and t-shirts. There were afternoons where the rows and columns seemed like a tangled yarn ball, but I had some great conversations with our patient grower members as I worked to sort out the mess. During the whole process I learned tons about customer service, order fulfillment, and office efficiency. Last weekend, it was rewarding to look at the sea of blue shirts across the speedway and know I was involved in each person's experience at least once.

This year we sent out over 3,000 t-shirts. I loved the design and will wear mine proudly.

Before the big weekend, we partnered with Kum & Go and held four pump promotions. I had fun creating radio scripts and working with stations to get the word out. At each promotion, E85 was $0.85/gallon for 2 hours! For this round of promotions I was lucky enough to attend two of the events and talk to several first time E85 customers. It was so fun telling people about the difference they can make in the environment, Iowa's economy, and their own pocketbook by filling up with higher blends of ethanol. For more information about E85 check out Iowa Corn's Ethanol page. On top of getting a great deal, customers got the opportunity to win tickets to the race weekend and take a lap around the block in a street legal Indy car!

I had a great time working with several members of the Iowa Corn staff in a more relaxed setting.

The two-seater Indy car was a blast!

I was so excited when I found out our final promotion of the week was with Casey's General Store. Unfortunately, at Iowa Corn we don't work with them very often because they don't sell higher blends of ethanol. This makes me so sad because growing up in Columbus Junction, Casey's was the only chain store we had for 20 miles most of my life. I have so many fond memories of running with dad to pick up a Friday night pizza after a busy week, coming home to a special treat of Casey's doughnuts, or stopping for a sprinkle sugar cookie just about every day of open campus my senior year. Anyway, there will always be a special place in my small-town-loving-heart for Casey's and it was so fun to get to work with them for once. For our promotion, we handed out $5 off ethanol coupons and visited with customers about the upcoming race. Marco Andretti made an appearance and there were lots of fans that came out to get his autograph. It was a perfect sunny summer afternoon and I enjoyed conversation with folks from NASCAR, Iowa Speedway, and Dekalb. To top off a perfect afternoon, the manager treated us to pizza! Mmmm!

Marco Andretti and I at the Pleasant Hills Casey's pump promotion!!

Thursday night, all our promotions were over and signcades, napkins, t-shirts, first aid-kits, zip ties, banners, sharpies, cups, ponchos and anything else you could imagine we might need to host 3,000 people in our VIP tent were stacked neatly waiting for their ride to the speedway. I was so nervous/excited/anxious/afraid I would snooze through my alarm, I could barely sleep! 

Sure enough, Friday rolled around and it was game time. By 8am the DFMs and and I had all their Jeeps packed, last minute errands had been run, and I was on my way to pick up 9,000 pats of butter (a blog post for another day!). Eventually, I arrived in Newton and joined my team hanging banners and hauling totes to set up in the tent. Meanwhile, we all had a close eye on the radar as the clouds grew and humidity thickened. By afternoon, it was time to relax and enjoy the American Ethanol 200. Since we weren't the sponsors of this race we watched from the suite and devoured a delicious meal. Special guests Bill Northey and Rusty Wallace joined us. I enjoyed their perspective on the race and comments about Iowa Corn's sponsorship.

 Bill Northey and Rusty Wallace

Even though I'm not a huge race fan I had a great time meeting up with friends and family. The chance to get familiar with the grounds made me feel much better about the next day. Since I had credentials, I could go about anywhere and got to see the action from a variety of angles. We were blessed the rain held off and the clouds broke for a beautiful night of racing under the lights.

I got to sit and watch about 10 laps of the race in the grandstands. It was amazing to be so close!

With all that was going on, Friday flew! By the end of the night, it felt so good to crash in our hotel! Saturday morning I woke up before my alarm eager to get to the track. (Anyone who knows me well could tell you this is quite a feat!) The morning was pretty relaxed and I was itching to get to work. I was the first staff to make it to the tent and rushed off to get my golf cart so I could begin checking things off my to do list. 

Before too long, it was time to set up the mechanics forum. I'm not mechanically inclined at all, and most of what the speaker said was over my head, but it was really interesting to hear about all the adjustments the teams make to the cars. It still amazes me all those engines run on fuel grown right here in Iowa! An engineer from Indy Car came and spoke to the group about all the precautions they take to control the g-forces the drivers experience. I learned that a few mistakes in adjustments and a driver can actually go so fast on such a short track they lose their orientation!

Later, with various groups, I got to see the whole infield. The media center had all kinds of drivers, crew members, and new casters buzzing around. The tech pad, where each car is inspected to make sure it meets regulations, was impressive too. Weaving my golf cart around elaborate haulers and RVs to get to the garages was neat. There was so much going on!

Mid afternoon it was time to set up our sweet corn display. We had 7,000 ears of corn, 15,000 napkins, and 9,000 servings of butter, salt and pepper to give away to race fans. Man! It was a lot! Several farmers and ag students were there distributing the corn and talking to visitors about the difference between sweet corn and field corn.

This was part of the message our farmers shared with our guests. Source: Iowa Corn Food & Fuel Infographic

Lots of guests, and our staff enjoyed the sweet corn feed!

I didn't get to stick around the sweet corn long! Off to the infield for pre-race! During pre-race I stayed with the presidents of ICGA and ICPB to make sure they got to the right place and held their belongings for pictures. We walked out on the track, which is steeper than you would think, and met track president Jimmy Small, Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds, and others. After lots of introductions and a few short welcome speeches it was time to tell the drivers to "start your ethanol powered engines" and wave the green flag. Bob and Roger, our presidents, had those responsibilities. After their jobs were complete, Bob and I hopped in the pace car for a few laps around the track. That just might have been the highlight of my night!

 Pace car selfie!

Once the race was started, I could finally relax for a few laps. I grabbed some left over sweet corn and made my way to the tent to catch up with friends. It was great to sit down for a bit, but not for long! With 50 laps to go, we made our way to victory lane to prepare for all the pictures, interviews, and trophy presentations. Being in the infield as the cars whirred past was exhilarating! As the race drew to a close and things got intense, you could hear the shouting and cheering coming from the pits. I couldn't see much of the actual race, but it was an exciting finish with some last minute passes made for the lead.  

Congratulations to Ryan-Hunter Ray!

All in all, it was a great weekend and I learned more than I ever could have imagined! I'm so grateful for my internship and all the people who patiently worked with me to contribute to such a huge event. Thanks to all my friends and family that came out to the track to support us! I can't wait to see what the 9th Iowa Corn Indy 300 will be like! Thanks for reading!

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