Delilah Selensky is excited to get out of town for a few days, to get a breath of fresh air, to see some sights and to hear the roar of nearly 900 horsepower screaming around a racetrack at 200 mph.
Selensky, a first-grade teacher at Briarwood Elementary and fellow Moore teacher Justin Ayres, a fifth-grade teacher from Plaza Towers Elementary, were chosen to represent the school district on Friday at the Feed The Children 300 NASCAR Nationwide Series race in Sparta, Ky.
A little more than a month since an EF5 tornado tore through Moore and destroyed both teachers' schools, they will be honored by being given the duties of starting the race, waving the green flag and uttering the famous phrase, “Gentleman, Start Your Engines.”
Selensky, 39, said she was thrilled when she heard she was chosen to go to the race not just because she thought it would be fun, but also because she feels proud to represent Moore.
“I'm excited to represent my teachers and school and school district,” she said. “We don't want anyone to forget about Moore. We also just want to let people know there is still a lot of work to be done here and we need a lot of help still.”
Erin Engelke, a spokeswoman with Feed The Children, said Selensky and Ayres will be able to meet NASCAR drivers, tour the pit area and be in the midfield with NASCAR fans.
“This will be an opportunity for them to really experience the race first hand,” Engelke said. “We wanted to give these teachers a little ray of sunshine in the midst of a really dark period.”
Ayres, 29, said he was surprised when he got word he had been chosen to go to see a NASCAR race in person. Growing up, he had been a big fan of the sport and loved watching drivers Mark Martin and Dale Earnhardt.
“I've looked up how people have done ‘gentleman, start your engines' on YouTube,” Ayres said. “I hope I don't mess it up.”
Both teachers say the opportunity couldn't have come at a better time to remind people of all the work that's left to be done to get a community put back together.
‘She was a hero'
Ayres rode out the storm with nearly 50 students in a hallway bathroom inside Plaza Towers. His students were fortunate, only a few scratches, bumps and bruises.
He said the hardest part came once the students were out of the school and saw their homes were destroyed.
Ayres said he nearly lost all hope in those moments after the tornado, until one of his students gave him some reassurance.
“One of my students just grabbed me and hugged me,” he said. “She looked at me and looked in my eyes and told me it's ok Mr. Ayres. We are going to be OK.
“She was a hero to me and there were so many other heroes that day just helping each other.”
Ayres said that is part of the message he wants to get across while on his trip to Kentucky. He wants people to know that Oklahomans are going to be OK, but that they will need help getting back on their feet.
“People have lost everything,” he said. “Hopefully this will be a great opportunity to let people know we are trying restore everything, but also get info out there that we still need help.”
Selensky said the opportunity to enjoy something like a NASCAR race feels like a return to normal.
“When you get organizations like NASCAR and Feed The Children recognizing you, it is really cool,” she said. “It really rewards your faith in humanity. You can be so down in the crud that's around you but then something like this happens and you get to see how good people are. We are thankful.”