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David Baltazar returns for Green Flag Day

Buchanan’s David Baltazar attended Southwestern Michigan College from 2010-14 while completing a Ferris State University bachelor’s degree in technical communication, minoring in automotive technology. Despite long hours traveling for NASCAR from Daytona Beach, Fla., Baltazar, who now markets VIRginia International Raceway, doesn’t feel he’s worked a day since college thanks to passionately pursuing a path to his dream job. Baltazar returned to SMC Oct. 27 as keynote speaker for Green Flag Day, addressing some 270 Coloma, Brandywine, Lakeshore, Dowagiac, Niles and Buchanan high schoolers. “I can’t speak highly enough of SMC’s automotive technology program, which is why I was instantly willing to talk about it. It’s such a great program,” Baltazar said.

Baltazar’s “Wave Your Own Flag” presentation in the theatre of the Dale A. Lyons Building on SMC’s Dowagiac campus even worked in an explanation of what each racing banner means: green, go; yellow, caution; red, stop; black, safety infraction; blue with a yellow stripe, faster car approaching; white, last lap or emergency vehicle on track; and checkered, winner crossing finish line.

Collectively, they symbolize plentiful options his industry offers.

“Think of all of these flags as jobs within the automotive industry,” Baltazar urged. “They all fall under the same umbrella. Some might be racing, some might work in the shop, some work for an automotive manufacturer — all possibilities within the automotive ecosystem that can start at SMC. I considered engineering, but while I’m good in math and science, it wasn’t something I wanted for a career, so I switched to business and communications. Accountants work for NASCAR. Some are car people. Some aren’t.”

Opened in 1957, VIR spans 1,300 acres at the Virginia-North Carolina border as “America’s first true motorsport resort,” a vacation destination with two hotels, amenities such as a Driver’s Club, 50-mph karting, eight miles of off-road racing, skeet shooting, pistol and rifle ranges, two restaurants and a spa.

Secluded forests established VIR for automotive industry testing where Baltazar enjoys sneak-previewing vehicles such as the $450,000 Ford GT.

One of Baltazar’s former professors, Dr. Stacy Horner, chair of the Schools of Business and Advanced Technology, vividly remembers him.

“David was very specific,” she said. “He was here for business and automotive classes, he loved cars, he loved to write and wanted to work for NASCAR. He worked hard and got a fantastic internship (with Chip Ganassi Racing in Charlotte, N.C.).”

Baltazar also joined the Sports Car Club of America in 2012.

“I’ve done 300 Autocross events,” he said. “The internship I landed took place completely through” his version of an extra-curricular activity. “One board member from my region’s son was head PR guy for Ganassi, so we toured the Indianapolis facility. Networking really is important because you never know who you’re going to meet who’s a potential employer.

“I used my internship connections to land a job with NASCAR,” Baltazar said. “I was in Charlotte about seven months in 2014, then moved to Daytona Beach for a year and a half. IMSA (International Motor Sports Association) is NASCAR’s road racing series instead of stock cars. While I worked with both I did public relations, media relations and lots of social media. Four months ago I moved to Danville, Va.”

He played a clip of Road America action near Elkhart Lake, Wis., explaining, “That series had 12 races a year. The team put together a video after every one. Traveling to 35 NASCAR and IMSA races all around the country 30 weeks out of the year made 2015 one of my busiest. I boarded 77 flights to 14 states. It’s a dream come true and I’ve gotten to experience a lot of cool things. Now I’m not traveling quite as much.”

“One of my favorite moments took place at Daytona International Speedway,” Baltazar said. “Ferrari brought the (2016) World Finals (for the first time in North America after Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, and Italy). I was in the starter stand while the car went around under the lights. Hair-raising moments like that that I’ll remember forever. I can’t believe I was being paid.

“I love race cars and had a very specific path, but whatever your path is that you’re passionate about, there’s a career dealing with that. You don’t have to go to school, go through the motions and end up with a job you’re okay with if you’re willing to chase your dreams.”

“Our program this year more than doubled in size,” Horner said. “Our advisory board met a couple of weeks ago and they’re begging for people.”