DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. --- Perron Jones spent months looking for an internship to supplement his degree in computer science at Georgia Tech. Then somebody mentioned NASCAR during a track-and-field workout session.
"I was on the intern search for a good while," the Evans High graduate said. "I didn't know about it until I was in the weight room at Georgia Tech and they told me about it. I said, 'Hmm, an internship in sports.' I'm an athlete, so I felt like it would be a competitive environment that I'm used to. This kind of business never stops. It offered a different way for me to get the experience I wanted."
Jones was selected among hundreds of applicants for NASCAR's Diversity Affairs program.
He works with the internal technology department for NASCAR, International Speedway Corp. and the Grand-Am Road Racing Series. Based at the company headquarters in Daytona Beach, Jones said he can gain more practical experience in a day than a semester in a classroom.
With the Coke Zero 400 approaching Saturday at Daytona International Speedway, he's never been busier -- or happier.
With nearly 100,000 people in town for the race, Jones will have the daunting task of making sure there are no potholes in the information superhighway.
"I'm doing a lot of different things: PC support; we problem-solve and troubleshoot," Jones said. "I also have been shadowing the networking guys and the software guys. We move around all the time."
Jones will spend most of the race weekend across the street from the racetrack where most of the company's computer systems are based. Nonetheless, it will be his first working weekend for a NASCAR event. And it's the last thing he expected a few months ago.
As a member of the track and field team for the Yellow Jackets, Jones was running out of ideas to gain experience in the workplace. He eventually was one of a handful selected from hundreds of applicants.
"I played sports a lot, but I wasn't good at anything," said Marcus Jadotte, NASCAR's vice president of public affairs and multicultural marking. "I wasn't good at any of the big ones that paid, so I couldn't be a professional athlete. People in college now have a path to a professional (sports) career as a non-athlete. It's amazing how many talented people there are out there. We see that a lot in our intern program."
Jones hopes NASCAR will turn into a springboard for bigger, better things.
"I never would have thought NASCAR," he said. "I'm not naturally a NASCAR fan. I rarely followed it. It's hard to follow it on television. When we went to the All-Star race in Charlotte, that was a good experience. That was my first race. I never really had any interest in it. It's a unique sport, and it's interesting."
Jones will start his junior year at Georgia Tech in the fall. His experience at NASCAR hasn't helped him decide whether to devote his studies toward software development or networking.
Either way, he will be a NASCAR fan.
Reach Don Coble at firstname.lastname@example.org.