People of Auburn: Clearice Roney gets to know students, community
D. Hunter Reardon
There’s a woman at the Chick-fil-A on Magnolia that everybody seems to know.
She’s the hostess on weekdays, and her job is to make sure everybody feels comfortable, even during the busiest lunch hours.
Spend a few minutes talking with her and you might hear about her beloved husband; spend a few days, and you’ll witness her abiding faith in God; spend a year and a half, and you might learn almost everything about the life she’s lived, and a little bit about yourself as well.
Clearice Roney was born in 1962 in Guin, Alabama, a town of about 3000 people. She got her associate’s degree in upholstery at Southern Union, but she had already begun working restaurant jobs around age thirteen
It may be hard to believe, but in the 1970s, she lived a rough-and-tumble lifestyle, following the Grateful Dead on tour and ending up in Southern California. It wasn’t until she was 24 that she converted to Christianity, which is now the foundation of her personality. Her grandmother taught her Bible stories as a child, but she passed away when Roney was nine, and from that point on she never went to church.
That all changed after one harrowing night, when Roney said she felt the spirit moving. She recently recounted the story after a long day of bussing tables and fixing drinks, and the joy in her voice was palpable.
“I was in San Diego, as far from God as I could be,” she said, “and I felt the Lord was near me. I heard His voice speaking –– audibly. Ever since then, I’ve been pursuing Him, and He’s helped me every step of the way.”
Later, she met her husband, and they married in 1987. Once again, Roney saw the hand of the Almighty at work. “The first time I met him, somebody pointed him out to me, and I said ‘Are you crazy? He’s not my type at all,’” she recalled. “Six months later, we were married.”
Three years later, they moved to the Auburn-Opelika area. Roney has done many different jobs in Auburn, but she’s been at Chick-fil-A since April 2016.
“I wanted to do something that would bless my mother, my church, and my husband,” she said. “When I make friends with somebody, I’ve got the gift of making them feel comfortable.” That’s part of the reason that she loves working at Chick-fil-A–– it gives her the opportunity to make differences in the everyday lives of the people around her.
“The Chick-fil-A Second Mile service philosophy meshes well with my convictions,” she said. There are more examples of this than anybody could count. Once, Roney helped walk a woman’s children out to her car, and stopped one from being hit by an oncoming vehicle. Sometimes, the good deeds are simple acts of kindness, like helping an elderly lady open salt packets or listening to a student after a rough day.
“The people I meet are mostly students,” said Roney. “Both God-fearing Christians and people trying to find their direction in life. And I love them both the same.”
When asked how many students she knew by name, she said that she mostly knew people by face –– however, she then proceeded to immediately rattle off a list of over a dozen names, often commenting on majors and hometowns. She said that she uses tricks to remember names, like creating acronyms or puns, and if she ever forgets one, she listens when the orders are called out at the counter.
There’s no telling how many people Roney has comforted and prayed for in the past 18 months as a hostess. One story she’s fond of recalling involves the healing of a woman’s deaf granddaughter.
“I saw an elderly lady with a sad look on her face, so I went up and asked her if she was okay,” Roney said. “The woman said, ‘It’s my granddaughter. She’s just a baby, and they say she was born deaf.’ I told her anything is possible through God, and we prayed together. A few months later, she came back in and told me that her granddaughter’s hearing had been restored.”
Besides the daily interactions with the Auburn community, Roney loves the freedom to be herself at Chick-fil-A. She said that the company itself is compassionate and giving, and they try hard to make their customers feel like guests.
“I believe God has me there to make everyone’s day just a little bit brighter,” she said. “When people open up, you can help them. I’m thankful to be at a job where I can do just that.”
Published on Nov. 5, 2017 at http://www.theplainsman.com/article/2017/11/clearice-roney
Alabama 500 does not disappoint students in attendance
D. Hunter Reardon
On Sunday, nearly 80,000 people packed into the Talladega grandstands to see Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s last race, the 2017 Alabama 500. Of those 80,000 fans, 2,500 were students who picked up tickets through the Chase U $24 student ticket program.
The students mainly hailed from Auburn University and the University of Alabama, and both groups made this clear during the many yellow and red flags that stopped the on-track action.
The students sang competing renditions of Bodda Getta and Rammer Jammer and chanted “War eagle” and “Roll tide” at one another repeatedly.
One Auburn student, Brooke Spann, junior in animal science, even brought her Auburn shaker from Jordan-Hare into the grandstands.
The racing was more eventful than usual, with 30 lead changes among 16 different drivers. There were 11 crashes, collecting 26 of the 40 cars, and fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr. had a chance to win on the last lap.
Ultimately, Joey Logano blocked Earnhardt for teammate Brad Keselowski, who came away with the victory, locking himself into the next round of NASCAR’s playoffs.
“Seeing the stands filled more than they have been in years for Earnhardt’s last race was a sight to see,” said Savannah Frederick, senior in agricultural communication. “It was like a music festival for rednecks out here. It didn’t end how I hoped it might, but I still made some great memories.”
Unlike most of the fans at the track, Frederick wasn’t pulling for Earnhardt, at least not primarily — she likes Ricky Stenhouse Jr., a Mississippi native who won his first race at Talladega last spring.
“I like Stenhouse because he has a racing name,” Frederick said. “There’s too many normal white-bread names in NASCAR today. Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano — those aren’t racing names. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — now that’s a racing name.”
Madison Dobbs, senior in exercise science, is partial to Chase Elliott, son of Bill Elliott and heir to Jeff Gordon’s old 24 car.
“Chase is cute,” Dobbs said. “And he’s our age. I might have to go down to the Big One on the Boulevard next year and give him my number.”
Though Earnhardt is leaving, Elliott and Stenhouse represent hope for the sport’s Southern fanbase. While the Southland once had a monopoly on racing success, a driver from below the Mason-Dixon hasn’t won a championship since Bobby Labonte took the Cup in 2000.
Other students were less focused on the nuts and bolts of the race and the potential playoff implications.
“I just had a hell of a time,” said Jonathan Schmitt, senior in marketing. “Dale yeah, baby.”
Published Oct. 17, 2017 at http://www.theplainsman.com/article/2017/10/alabama-500-does-not-disappoint-students
Fall race at Talladega offers students rare opportunity
D. Hunter Reardon
On the heels of the most successful spring race in years, officials at Talladega Superspeedway are hoping for an even better turnout for the fall event.
While many other marquee NASCAR tracks saw sagging attendance, the Geico 500 was marked by loud fans and full grandstands. Anthony Gady, Ticket Sales Manager at Talladega Superspeedway, had a few ideas about the nature of the turnaround.
“We’re really trying to connect with all types of fans,” Gady said. “A couple of our most important outreach programs have been aimed at veterans, first responders and college students.”
It’s that last demographic that NASCAR, long the domain of older fans and “gearheads,” has been successfully courting. While television ratings have fallen from their peak in the mid-2000s, there has been a significant uptick in the 18-49 age range over the past year. Gady said that he hopes Talladega Superspeedway can build on that with their college ticket program.
“Our college program has been expanded over the past few years,” Gady said. “Originally, the tickets were $25, but that’s been lowered to $24 with the partnership with Chase Elliott and his team.”
Elliott drives Jeff Gordon’s old 24 car, and his own college program, Chase U, has partnered with Talladega Superspeedway for recent races. The $24 ticket offers a huge value relative to the typical cost of a weekend at the racetrack.
“There are a lot of benefits packed into those $24,” Gady said. “There’s a college camping section in North Park, which is free to students that show their ID. There’s access to the Big One on the Boulevard, a huge infield party on Friday night, as well as the country music concert on Saturday night.”
And of course, the ticket includes general admission seating for the Alabama 500, which allows food and soft-sided coolers through the front gate.
“It’s an action-packed weekend,” Gady said. “In the past, Elliott has come out to the college campground and hung out with the students. They’ve been a great team and a great partner.”
While ticket value is one reason for the resurgence, Gady also pointed to relatable drivers that are having success in the Cup Series.
“Chase Elliott is a Georgia boy,” he said, “and this spring, we saw Ricky Stenhouse Jr. win his first race. The majority of our consumers are from the South, and having Stenhouse and Elliott find success, bodes well for us and the sport of NASCAR.”
Both Elliott and Stenhouse are a part of NASCAR’s playoffs and survived the first round of elimination.
Of course, there is another name that is helping to draw in the fans, one that is nearly synonymous with success at Talladega Superspeedway—Dale Earnhardt Jr.
With six career Talladega wins under his belt — that’s second all-time, behind only his father, Dale Sr. —some are hoping to see an Earnhardt take the checkered flag at Talladega one last time. As any race fan knows, there’s nothing like the crowd noise at Talladega Superspeedway when Dale Jr. takes the lead.
“This is Earnhardt country,” said Gady.
Student tickets sold out in the spring, and Talladega Superspeedway plans on selling out the College GA section again in the fall.
“We’re excited,” Gady said. “Talladega Superspeedway is the biggest, baddest track in NASCAR. We have fans come from all over the world to see us. As we like to say, this is more than a race — this is Talladega.”
Published Oct. 15, 2017 at http://www.theplainsman.com/article/2017/10/talladega-tickets