Sprint Cup Series driver David Ragan, 22, spoke to Cheyenne High School students Thursday about the need to stay focused while driving, but some students didn’t seem to be listening.
“When I looked around, half of the kids weren’t paying attention,” said Shauntovia Hicks, a junior who will be taking the test for her driver’s permit next week.
The assembly of about 300 students in the school gymnasium was put on by AAA, a major sponsor of Ragan and his No. 6 car that will compete in Sunday’s big race.
The day before the assembly, AAA officials stood in the parking lot and looked to see how many students were wearing seat belts on their way into school.
Only 68 percent of them wore their seat belts, AAA spokesman Michael Geeser said. The national seat belt usage average is 84 percent and the Nevada average is 92 percent.
“I was kind of embarrassed that the percentage was so low,” said Hicks, who said she always wears her seat belt. “I have to remind my older brother to put his on.”
Ragan encouraged students to get as much experience as they could before they ever get behind the wheel.
Talking to older siblings, parents and teachers, visiting the go-kart track or even playing video games could help prepare a young person to start driving, he said.
“Anything that gives you experience is good,” Ragan said.
According to Geeser, traffic accidents are the leading cause of death in the United States for people under 25 years old.
“You’ve got a lot of distractions you’ve got to manage while you’re behind the wheel,” Ragan told students. “When you get in the car, that’s what you need to focus on.”
Ragan also promised the students that if he came to speak in 2009 and more than 90 percent of students at Cheyenne wore their seat belts, he would get tickets for as many students as he could for that year’s Las Vegas Motor Speedway race.
“We’re just here to give them something to think about,” Ragan said. “Hopefully they’ll think about doing the right thing and buckling up.”
Ragan said he began racing go-karts at age 12, and had to have good grades in school if he wanted to race on the weekends. “I knew if I wanted to be behind the wheel, I couldn’t act up.”
Contact reporter Scott Spjut at firstname.lastname@example.org or (702) 383-0279.