Jerry Gappens, executive vice president and general manager of New England's largest sports and entertainment facility, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, spends a great amount of time traveling, in meetings focused on promoting for the two big NASCAR races held at the speedway.
The LENOX Industrial Tools 301 on June 28 and the SYLVANIA 300 on September 20 will each bring an estimated 105,491 people to New Hampshire, as New Hampshire Motor Speedway evolves into the second largest city in the state.
And yet, Jerry Gappens does not spend all of his time focused on the speedway. One of the reasons for Gappens' success is his true sense of balance between work and family. During NASCAR's off-season, Gappens can be found in a Bedford elementary school gym coaching third and fourth grade girls in the Bedford Youth Basketball League.
New Hampshire Motor Speedway has always been proactive in the community, sponsoring both boys and girls teams. But this year, Gappens takes it to a new level. Gappens is personally involved with the Bedford youth girls basketball team as a coach and an adoring father.
"Jerry is a very wonderful nurturing coach he makes it a lot of fun for the girls, he really works with them to make each and every one of them feel special and accomplished." says Alison Burdon, mother of one of the girls on Gappens' team. "One time he brought a boom box in for the girls during practice that made it even more fun!" Burdon recalls.
Steve Johnson's daughter is a first year player on the team. "My daughter really likes being with all of her friends, but most of all, coach Gappens makes them feel like a real team, that is what makes the experience really special," Johnson said.
Gappens relocated to New Hampshire last January from Charlotte, North Carolina when Speedway Motorsports Chairman Bruton Smith bought the Loudon facility from Bob Bahre. His wife Lucy and daughter Ella joined him in June. The 47-year-old Indiana native is enjoying his move to the Granite state. "Lucy and I bought a house in Bedford last August," said Gappens. "Our daughter attends school here and we really enjoy being part of such a hands-on community as Bedford."
"On a personal level, basketball is something Ella and I can share. It gives us quality time together, gets her involved in an activity that is fun and creates an environment for her to be involved with other girls her age." This has been the second season for Gappens in Bedford youth coaching. He previously coached in North Carolina several years ago, coaching his sons Denny and Wes in various sports.
"I love kids and love being a father," says Gappens. "It seems like yesterday when I was coaching Denny and Wes in little league baseball and youth basketball and now they're finishing college! Being active in the lives of your kids is one of the most rewarding experiences a parent can have. Coaching is one way that I am able to block out quality time and not worry about the everyday things that can be all-consuming. When I'm on the court with these girls, I block all that other stuff out of my mind and just enjoy being a dad and having fun with these kids."
Gappens also has strong praise for the organization of the Bedford Youth Basketball League. "I am very impressed with how well this league is organized and run," Gappens adds "from tryouts to the draft to the website, everything is done professionally. There are a lot of good people volunteering their time who are dedicated to making this whole thing work for the kids and the community. It has also given me the opportunity to meet new people, including Mark Giguere, who is helping me as a co-head coach. Because of my schedule and travel, I can't do this by myself," shared Gappens. "Mark has been a great help, and the kids respond well to him. He's a first-class guy, great father and good teacher. Other parents have been very helpful and supportive as well." Gappens continues, "I got an email last week from Brad Holt, who coaches the NHMS boys' team. He shared with me what a great group of kids he has, representing the speedway's team. Brad is a lawyer by day, but more importantly he's a dad who volunteered to coach his son's team and has found it to be a very rewarding experience."
On the court, the NH Motor Speedway-sponsored teams are doing well. Both teams finished second in their regular season and take 5-2 (boys) and 5-3 (girls) records into the playoffs, which begin March 7. But Gappens says the won-loss record is secondary.
"Don't get me wrong, I am as competitive as the next person, and I like to win," Gappens says with a smile. "This is not about looking at the scoreboard at the end of the game to measure success. It is about looking into the eyes of these girls and knowing they had fun and tried their best."
In addition to Ella, girls participating on Gappens' NHMS team include Caroline Brodeur, Brooke Burdon, Allison Clarke, Morgan Giguere, Marisa Johnson, Lauren LaBonte, Joley Merriman and Kristen Peras. "They are a great group of girls," said Gappens. "I am very proud of all of them and the improvement they have made as a team along with their individual skills. They have made this really enjoyable."
After just spending four days with NASCAR's top superstars and industry heavy hitters at last week's season-opening Daytona 500, Gappens is excited about the new season and meeting the challenges that lie ahead. However, pardon him if he pauses for a second and reflects with pride about a small group of third and fourth grade girls he met just a couple of months ago and the great experience he's enjoyed, regardless of how deep they go in the playoffs.
So as New England's snowy winter flexes it muscle for one last hurrah before making way for spring and summer, the sports world turns its attention to college basketball's annual March Madness and NASCAR's annual Chase for the Championship, the transplanted Gappens feels right at home and completely balanced.