Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2009 | 5:38 p.m.
The visitor had been at C.T. Sewell Elementary School only once earlier this year, but the students instantly recognized him as he walked in the door Friday.
"Good morning Mr. Petrie," they said in unison, as Jim Petrie, owner of H-Town Racing and president of its nonprofit arm, Race to Success, walked to the front of Helene Monahan's fifth grade class.
The nonprofit group was his reason for the visit that day. He was making his first trip of the school year to hand out prizes to students who had met reading goals since his last time at the school.
Nine students, all girls, had managed to read more than 500 pages to earn their first prize: an autographed photo from H-Town Racing and a T-shirt.
Petrie expects that number to grow.
"Kids that don't want to read at all, by the third trip they're starting to get excited," Petrie said.
Accepting their prizes were Kayla Clark, Kelci Mitchelltree-Cassas, Leizel Malicdem, Maricela Mayorga, Caitlynn Miller, Sebrina Orozco, Autumn Springer, Shannon Spruce and Mikayla Strickland.
Autumn had read the most pages, completing 1,600 in the first month. She groaned audibly as the announcement was made.
"I hate being first," she said. "I feel so selfish."
With all of the prize winners being girls, Petrie took the opportunity to encourage a bit of boy-versus-girl competition. After all, what fifth-grade boy would let himself be beat by a group of girls, he asked?
This is the second year Race to Success has been held. By the end of the program last year, every student had received at least the first prize. Different prizes are offered at different marks, from the T-shirts to free tickets for the family to attend a race later in the year.
If they can get the sponsorship, Petrie would like to expand the program to eight schools in the next year and every school in the district within the next few. The program depends on sponsors, but he has requirements for who can contribute: the product has to be kid-friendly and not lewd in any way.
"We made a commitment to the kids and we're not going to break that," Petrie said.
This year, the program is at three schools: Sewell, Owen Roundy and newcomer James E. and A. Rae Smalley Elementary. At the end of the school year, the students will be invited to a Race to Success night at the Las Vegas Raceway, which includes the presentation of $500 to each school to go toward the library.
For more info on the program, visit www.htownspeed.com/id20.html or call Petrie at 378-2363.
Frances Vanderploeg can be reached at 990-2660 or email@example.com.