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NASCAR drivers Jimmie Johnson, William Byron ramp up Convocation

Liberty University’s basketball court inside the Vines Center was transformed into the “Liberty Convocation Motor Speedway” on Wednesday as the university welcomed some leading names in NASCAR.

After a panel discussion on the stage with NASCAR legend Jimmie Johnson, 2018 NASCAR Rookie of the Year William Byron, and Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports, the guests joined Liberty President Jerry Falwell and his wife, Becki, Liberty Football Head Coach Hugh Freeze, and Senior Vice President for Spiritual Development David Nasser, in a good-natured race with mini go-karts. President Falwell got a jump start on the competition in the final race and held off Johnson for the championship.

Byron, a junior at Liberty, and Johnson, a seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion, visited Liberty ahead of their next race on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. EST at Richmond Raceway.

During the Q&A, President Falwell asked Johnson what advice he had for students gearing up to start their careers.

“Just be passionate,” Johnson said. “It’s not going to be an easy ride, but if you’re doing something you enjoy — your calling, something that you’re really into — it gets you out of bed. In my own journey, I was never the one that had the most talent; I just outworked everybody. One thing that separated me is my passion. That’s something I know is within (Byron). To see his dedication, his work ethic, his talent, he is going to be a superstar in the sport.”

Byron was asked how he is able to juggle responsibilities and balance the demands of driving at the highest level of NASCAR while maintaining a 3.2 GPA in pursuit of a business communications degree through Liberty’s online program.

“By being teachable and going to people like Jimmie (Johnson) or other teammates that I have and leaning on them for advice,” Byron said. “You’re never good enough to know everything, so you’ve got to go to the people around your company and ask for everything they can give you.”

Hendrick said his faith, family, and friends helped him and his wife, Linda, get through a tremendous trial on Oct. 24, 2004, when their son, Ricky, and Hendrick’s brother, John, who was president of Hendrick Motorsports at the time, and two nieces died in a plane crash in Stuart, Va., as they traveled to a race at Martinsville Speedway.

“It’s hard to go on after losing a child, but we are convinced and we hope, because of our faith, we will see him again,” Hendrick said. “You need family. I grew up on a farm, and we prayed for each other, and our family has stayed close today. And if you’ve got good friends, they are there for you at the best of times and the worst of times, and that’s when you need them the most. In life, sometimes, you are at the top of the mountain or the bottom of the valley, but if you have that foundation of faith, family, and friends, it will get you through it. You can never give up, never give up.”

Hendrick also spoke about Liberty’s automotive dealership management program through Liberty’s School of Business, which he helped to start in 2017. The program is giving students and graduates more career opportunities in the industry. The Charlotte, N.C.-based Hendrick Automotive Group currently has 12 Liberty student interns working for the company.

“This has been a terrific partnership, and the relationship with the school has been unbelievable,” Hendrick said. “We need more Liberty students.”

He said he has noticed a difference in graduates of Liberty from those of other schools.

“It’s been amazing,” Hendrick said. “They’re the best group of young people that we have ever had running our stores, so grounded and faith-based. They want to work, want to learn.”

Hendrick applauded the university’s LU Send Now initiative for sending emergency response teams to provide aid and assistance in the wake of disasters across the country and around the world.

“If you’re a giving company and you believe in loving and taking care of each other, it makes it fun to go to work,” he said.

Hendrick Automotive fed 60,000 people throughout the communities where its dealerships are located during Easter and Thanksgiving last year. Their goal this year is to feed 100,000.

“We believe in servant leadership, and we practice it every single day,” Hendrick said. “We’ve turned the pyramid upside down.”