First it was a party, cake and a fast lap around the New Hampshire Motor Speedway, where Rachel Gilbert drove the pace car.
[media-credit id=62 align=”alignright” width=”231″][/media-credit]Now, for this race weekend, Gilbert has continued to fulfill her 100th birthday destiny by serving as grand marshal for the Whelen Modified Series race.
Gilbert’s adventure started several months ago when her daughter emailed the race track, asking if any accommodations could be made for her mother’s 100th birthday, particularly as she could not sit in the grandstands comfortably.
Jerry Gappens, New Hampshire Motor Speedway’s executive vice president and general manager, and his staff were intrigued by the request. Not only did they accommodate this family’s wish, but also helped Gilbert fulfill her NASCAR destiny, naming her the Speedway’s oldest fan.
For her 100th celebration, Gappens provided a race car birthday cake at the track, an official LENOX Industrial Tools 301 hat, a NHMS jacket and a birthday card. The Speedway even made arrangements for her to take a few fast laps around the track.
“Rachel is a true pace setter,” Gappens said. “We wanted to take the opportunity and celebrate this special occasion.
But Gappens had even more in store for Gilbert. She also got an official crew shirt from her favorite driver Carl Edwards, as well as tickets to Sunday’s Cup race.
“This all started from the email,” Marie Ann Mills, Gilbert’s daughter said. “It started by having her go around the track and then providing her with tickets to Sunday’s race.”
“And I also got to drive the car,” Gilbert reminded her daughter. This was especially a treat for Gilbert as she gave up her car once she moved into an independent living facility for seniors.
And celebrate she has. One of the biggest highlights for her has been serving as the Grand Marshal for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Series race and giving the command to start engines.
Gilbert admitted she was slightly nervous prior to giving the command. But armed with a note that read “Drivers Start Your Engines” and surrounded by her family, she delivered the most famous words in motorsports beautifully.
“I was nervous at the very beginning,” Gilbert said. “But it was a dream come true. This was great.”
“That was unbelievable,” Gilbert’s daughter shared. “We were so proud of her.”
Gilbert is a true NASCAR fan and has been for many years, starting in the 1960s when she followed her husband and some of their friends to races at Bryar Motorsports Park in Loudon, New Hampshire. She has also attended the Daytona 500, where she saw legends like Richard Petty and Bobby Allison race.
Since that time, Gilbert has been hooked, never missing a race on television according to her family. In fact, residents of the facility where she lives have affectionately nicknamed her “Speedy” because of her affection for the sport.
“I’ve been a fan for so long,” Gilbert said. “I have friends that we would go to the races with and we kept it up every year.”
Gilbert’s favorite driver during that period of her life was Dale Earnhardt, Sr. She still struggles when she talks about him and cannot believe he has been gone that long.
Not only has Gilbert been a race fan forever, but she also has a few other secrets to her achieving her centennial birthday. What are her keys to her longevity?
“Good exercise,” Gilbert said simply. “That and a good gin and tonic when I go out.”
Gilbert’s other key to her success has been her family, their love as well as their support of her NASCAR dream.
“She always has a smile on her face,” Gilbert’s daughter shared. “If I could be half the woman that she is, I will be a hell of a woman.”