Linda grew up watching NASCAR with her family. So when she recently went online and came across Coca-Cola’s online contest for a trip to Atlanta to attend the NASCAR AdvoCare500 and a ride along around the Atlanta Motor Speedway with a member of the Coca-Cola Racing Family, she immediately filled out the submission form. Three weeks later, much to Linda’s surprise, she received a call from Jo Zacharie. Jo called on behalf of Coke to inform Linda that she won and would have to get to Atlanta in just a couple of weeks. “Jo was amazing,” Linda said. “She was hospitable and genuine. She made the experience of winning incredible.”
While this was a fantastic opportunity, Linda’s job requires at least two months notice before receiving time off. Normally, Linda would’ve gone through her normal process to ask for time off, but something told her to circumvent the process and go directly to the Director to ask, and she followed her gut. She explained the situation and her Director was overjoyed by her win. Without hesitation she changed the schedule to include Linda’s time off.
Linda was prepared to come to Atlanta with her husband when an important meeting for work came up and he couldn’t go. So she asked her sister, Anita White, to go to Atlanta with her.
Anita’s late husband, Ron Burnette, who passed away two years ago, loved NASCAR and driver Tony Stewart. Linda described Ron as a nice guy who had a dream to visit a NASCAR track. Unfortunately, Ron never got that opportunity. Anita was excited to honor and remember Ron by living out his dream.
Just a couple of weeks later, Linda and Anita were at the Atlanta Motor Speedway getting ready for their ride along with a Coca-Cola Racing Family member. A soft bustle filled the hospitality room as contest winners, Coke employees, and Atlanta Motor Speedway employees gathered together as the festivities of the day were about to begin. Each contest winner was given a Coca-Cola bottle with a random number on it. That number determined the order in which they would blindly pick a driver to ride with from an upside down card. As the Coke employees came around with the bottles, she received the last bottle. She looked at the number and her number was two. As she got up to pick a card, Anita whispered, please pick Tony Stewart. Linda picked a card and flipped it over. They would be riding with Tony Stewart!
Linda and Anita couldn’t be any happier. Here they were at a NASCAR track getting ready to ride with Tony Stewart. They couldn’t help but think Ron’s spirit was close by helping to make all of this happen.
According to the New York Times, Tony Stewart is known as “one of the finest racers of his generation.” Before coming to NASCAR, he was a four-time USAC champion and the 1997 IndyCar Series champion. And in NASCAR, Stewart has burnished his legend by becoming a three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion with 47 career wins, four of which include the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway (2005, 2006, 2009 and 2012). Linda spoke highly of Tony: “He has a great personality, a nice and friendly man.” Tony talked and joked with Linda just a bit before they zoomed around the track. A bit more nervous than Linda, Anita was immediately calmed by Tony; she felt Ron’s spirit with her as she rode around the track with his favorite driver.
Linda wrote a letter to thank everyone for the experience:
I just wanted to thank the Coca-Cola family for always being authentic and professional. My sister and I made a connection with each and every Coca-Cola employee and they made us feel so special. I was so impressed with the Coca-Cola employees; it seemed they really loved their jobs.
Every time I think about the ride along I can’t stop smiling. I talk about it at work and I was just impressed with the whole organization, from the airport ride to the hotel. In the hospitality room everyone was genuine and so friendly. We were treated wonderfully. The hotel in Atlanta was amazing – first class. Of course my ride with Tony Stewart was the biggest highlight of my life, he was such a sweetheart and Richard Petty was adorable and I loved learning about him as well. Coca-Cola is more than just a company, Coca-Cola is a family. This experience was everything I expected and more.