Bridgeville 5th-grader wins pace car design contest

BRIDGEVILLE – When the Dover International Speedway pace car strolled up to Phillis Wheatley Elementary School on Tuesday, Nakaiya Burbage had no idea it would be wrapped in the design she created months ago.

The fifth-grader’s colorful design was selected as the winner of the 2019 Monster Mile Youth Nation Design Challenge.

The contest, in its fourth year, included more than 3,000 design entries from fifth graders from 32 different schools across Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

As the winner, Nakaiya will receive a VIP experience at the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race in Dover on Sunday, May 5, including recognition during pre-race activities.

“It feels amazing because I’ve never experienced something like this before,” she said. “I just like being creative. Everybody in my class wanted me to win, so I was getting nervous.”

Students participating in the contest were only allowed to use crayons, colored pencils, markers, etc. No computer aided designs were accepted, in order to level the playing field for all schools involved.

“She did it in her art class, so the drawing wasn’t sent home or anything, it was done all in school,” said Nakaiya’s mother, Willanda Collins. “I’m just super excited, I’m proud of her. She wants to be an artist.”

“It was a total surprise,” her father, Nelson Burbage, added. “It’s awesome. She’s always drawing and painting things, she’s very creative so it’s not unexpected.”

The pace car will be wrapped in the winning design for the remainder of the calendar year. Each year, the car makes dozens of community event appearances throughout the mid-Atlantic region.

“I felt excited, because I didn’t know it was going to be mine,” Nakaiya said of seeing her design on the car for the first time.

Nakaiya was surprised one more time when Todd Gilliland, a NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series driver, was the one to drive the pace car up to the school.

After parking the car, Gilliland got out to greet the surprised contest winner and her fifth-grade classmates.

“It really is an honor,” said Mr. Gilliland. “I heard about [the contest] a couple weeks ago and I definitely thought, after reading over what we were going to do today, that it was a really cool deal to be a part of and you can tell that just by all the kids out here lined up on the sidewalk.”

After a brief interview session and photo op in front of the school, Nakaiya and Todd walked around the car to admire the design created by the aspiring artist.

“It’s pretty cool, it’s a car that you can’t miss,” Mr. Gilliland said. “They said it’s been different themed the last few years but, in my opinion, this is probably the coolest one and just to be a part of it is awesome. She said she wanted to use her creativity a little bit and wanted it to stand out.”

Burbage had the opportunity to take a quick ride in the newly-designed car while her classmates watched from the sidewalk.

“When we took off to go for a little ride, she was waving to all of her classmates,” Mr. Gilliland said. “So, all of this stuff is pretty cool and just seeing the look on her face was amazing.”

Following the unveiling of the pace car, Mr. Gilliland, Burbage and her fifth grade classmates went inside the school’s gymnasium for a Q&A session with the 18-year-old NASCAR driver and the rest of the school population.

Students and staff asked Mr. Gilliland, the two-time NASCAR K&N Pro Series West champion (2016, ’17), a wide array of questions regarding his racing career, ranging from how many races he’s won to how many times he’s crashed his car during a race.

The first two years of the design contest only received entries from Delaware schools, with a combined 1,900 entries between 2016 and 2017.

Last year’s contest saw an uptick in entries, featuring more than 3,000 from four different states (Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania). This year’s contest expanded to cover one additional state.

“To be standing next to the winner of 3,000 kids is amazing,” Mr. Gilliland said.

Dover International Speedway will be celebrating its 50th year anniversary during race weekend May 3-5.

Mr. Gilliland will be making his fifth overall appearance at Dover International Speedway when he starts in the JEGS 200 NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series race May 3.

Reach staff writer Ben Heck at bheck@newszap.com

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