Africa Trip Allows Mayer To ‘Rediscover’ His Joy


Sam Mayer made a mission trip to Africa over the winter that he says "changed my perspective on life." (Photo Courtesy of Sam Mayer)

MOORESVILLE, N.C. – If one sits down with Sam Mayer now, they have a chance to get to know a grinning, “occasionally goofy,” and kind-hearted individual.

That middle description is in his own words, by the way, from the early part of his Legend car career.

However, for most of the past two seasons, the JR Motorsports driver will be the first to say that wasn’t the case.

Winding the clock back to the start of the 2022 NASCAR Xfinity Series season, Mayer was coming off a rookie campaign of 18 races – because he didn’t turn 18 until late June – that was far from what he’d hoped it would be.

Six top 10s and an average finish of 20th was considered abysmal for the driver who won back-to-back ARCA Menards Series East championships in 2020 and 2021 and was looked at as one of the hottest prospects in the NASCAR garage area at that time.

So, Mayer went “all in on racing,” turning his every focus and thought toward his career and trying to better his standing in the motorsports industry.

It didn’t exactly work out perfectly in that 2022 season, going winless even though he did make the playoffs, but last year marked the competitive turning point for Mayer in his Xfinity Series tenure.


Sam Mayer in NASCAR Xfinity Series victory lane at the Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway ROVAL last October. (James Gilbert/Getty Images for NASCAR photo)

Four wins, including two in the postseason that propelled the Franklin, Wis., native into the Championship 4, gave a look at the caliber that many pundits and fans had expected to see right out of the gate when Mayer hit the national stage.

But still, if one looked closely enough at Mayer’s expressions and mannerisms, there was still a sense that something wasn’t quite right, despite his success. The 20-year-old admitted that freely in hindsight.

“[At that time], I was consumed by racing a hundred percent,” Mayer said in an exclusive, deep-dive interview with Motorsports Hotspot. “It took over my life, which can be good and bad … because you’re basically dedicating your life to your work and everything that goes along with that.

“It’s unhealthy, because you get so consumed by it that you kind of lose a grip on other things that matter. Looking at it now, I can definitely say that a lot of that happened to me, for quite a while.”

Though he finished third in Xfinity Series points last year and was riding a wave of success, Mayer wasn’t happy with himself inside. He began to realize that driving race cars for a living wasn’t the only thing he wanted out of life.

It took a trip to Africa in late November and early December to reset his entire personal axis.

Through the Starkey Cares initiative, which is a public commitment to social responsibility designed to bring people together under a common bond of caring for one another, Mayer received an opportunity to travel to Zambia, Malawi, and Kenya for the charitable mission of providing hearing to the less fortunate.

Starkey’s Neighbors in Need program helps communities struggling to afford hearing aids by helping them acquire technologies that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford.

By offering top hearing solutions at a dramatically reduced price, Starkey’s goal is to open the world up to those who have never had a chance to hear, or who have had diminished hearing for many years.

Mayer, who spent much of his ARCA career carrying the banner of mental health awareness and using his racing platform to support those battling depression and other related struggles, had “gotten away” from serving others as he put so much focus and pressure on his own situation.

A couple of weeks in Central and Eastern Africa – during the NASCAR offseason – gave him the chance to put aside his personal thoughts and concerns, because it took an instant upon landing for Mayer to realize that “the things we deal with here in the U.S. are nothing compared to what they go through.”

“It was something special to get the invite to go over there and have that opportunity to do that … not only because Starkey is such a wonderful organization with what they do, but man … it was eye-opening for me,” Mayer admitted. “It almost brings tears to my eyes thinking about it, because of how amazing the culture is over there and how happy and kind everyone is, even when their situations aren’t easy.

“It’s absolutely a night and day difference compared to the U.S. for a multitude of reasons, but the biggest one is that everyone over there has a smile on their face and is grateful for what they have, even if it’s little.”


Sam Mayer (left) with a group of Zambian children helped by the Starkey Cares initiative in November. (Photo Courtesy of Sam Mayer)

Mayer spent the opening leg of his trip in Zambia, helping to distribute hearing aids to children and families affected by hearing loss, before visiting Starkey’s newly opened hearing care hospital in Malawi to assist with the facility’s grand opening and tour the area with several foundation officials.

But the bulk of his time overseas was spent in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, where Mayer experienced a full mission day centered around the joy of helping to “bring life back to those less fortunate.”

“So, all together throughout the trip, I personally fit probably a hundred people with hearing aids, and I got better as I went, for sure!” Mayer recalled. “But like … it was so easy to do and [something] so simple that made such a difference in people’s lives.

“My favorite moment of the entire trip was when I was working with this elderly lady; she was super sweet. She didn’t speak a lick of English. She had no communication with me other than sign language and gestures. It was really tough to communicate with a lot of the people there, but she was very wise with her age and somewhat understood what we were doing. But I was fitting her, and I put a hearing aid in that was a little bit too loud, because she kind of flinched and I was immediately like, ‘OK, I’m gonna go get a different one.’

“I walked away and could tell she was confused because I was walking away from her … so I immediately came back and signaled, you know, one second and I will help you. I got back and I fitted her with a hearing aid, and it was perfect the second time around. Her face just lit up; she’s happy, she could hear … and she probably hadn’t heard [much of anything] in 30 years or so. It was such an experience, being able to witness that.

“She got up when she was done being fitted and started dancing, and gestured to me to join her,” Mayer noted with his trademark smile. “So, the two of us were dancing together, having fun, and she was teaching me this cultural dance and I was learning it as other people were joining in.

“That was definitely my favorite part of the trip, was being able to light someone’s world up again and to share the experience of another culture in the way that I was able to.”

Mayer also tipped that his experience in downtown Nairobi was “unlike anything I ever expected.”

“Being in downtown Nairobi, it was really, really cool. The culture over there is a lot of fun. The food is very different. I was very limited on what I could eat over there. There were definitely some interesting entrees that I did get to eat, but I lived off a lot of candy, too – a lot of Hershey’s bars,” he laughed.

“That’s kind of what I was working on for probably two weeks straight, because we weren’t allowed to really have much food over there since the water’s so different than it is in our part of the world. Just the way they grow the food is different, and our bodies wouldn’t react to it well.

“Despite the differences and some of the limitations, it was worth every second of my time over there.”

Mayer returned stateside just before Christmas, and since the trip has “begun to rediscover” the parts of his personality and identity that were close to his heart during his teenage years.

He’s also found his genuine joy for life again – not just because he has the opportunity to drive race cars as a profession – but in reconnecting with both industry friends and those close to him that he cares deeply about.

“I was guilty of closing myself off from … probably the start of 2022 to literally when I went to Africa,” Mayer admitted. “[Going to Africa] was a wake-up call, not just on the culture side of it, but truly on the helping other people side of it. It made me realize how much I want to care about other people again, and not just about myself.”

He might still be a typical 20-year-old in some aspects of his life, but Mayer also said he knows now what he wants to do with his racing platform in the future.

Many NASCAR Cup Series drivers, including Brad Keselowski (Checkered Flag Foundation), Kyle Busch (Bundle of Joy Fund), and Joey Logano (Joey Logano Foundation & JL Kids Crew) have charitable organizations that they’ve founded to better the lives of those around them in various capacities.

It’s something Mayer hopes he can do some day in his own right.


Sam Mayer (Jacob Seelman photo)

“When I finally get a grip on everything – because I know I’m not there yet [laughs] – is I want to have some sort of faith-based foundation that will help people that need the word of God, or maybe need financial help. I want to help people who might not be fortunate enough to be blessed with an understanding of faith and everything else that can come with it.”

So, who is Sam Mayer now, compared to who he was two years ago?

Well, he’s a winner in the second-closest finish in Xfinity Series history (at Texas Motor Speedway in April), but that’s the least important bullet that Mayer hopes people take away from meeting him.

“I think now, I’m a lot closer to being just … a happy guy, where that smile that people see really is the genuine me again,” Mayer mused after thinking it over.

“I’m a driver, yes, but service, serving others … that’s what I want people to think of first.”

For more information on the Starkey Cares initiative, which has independent distributors and hearing facilities in more than 100 countries across the world, visit

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About Jacob Seelman

Jacob Seelman is Motorsports Hotspot’s News Editor and Race Face Digital’s Director of Content, as well as a veteran of more than a decade in the racing industry as a professional, though he’s spent his entire life in the garage and pit area.