The long awaited return of Racing For Kids to the Hill was all the more thrilling and enjoyable this year because of all the obstacles that needed to be overcome to bring it back for its 15th year! Uncertainty over the pandemic, a fire in our building the week before – we had a lot […]
The year kicked off with the IndyCar opener in Saint Petersburg, Florida. Since the inaugural Firestone Grand Prix of Saint Petersburg in 2009 Racing For Kids® has been visiting the young patients at the city’s Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital. Ryan Hunter-Reay, the 2012 Verizon IndyCar Series champion, joined the Racing For Kids® team at All Children’s for his 8th visit to the hospital. Hunter-Reay delivered a specially equipped, IV-friendly Radio Flyer wagon designed to transport bed-ridden patients to special events, the playroom, doctor appointments, and medical treatments. The wagons are called “Fregin’s Flyers” for the Canadian philanthropist and amateur racer Doug Fregin, who is underwriting the program.
The weekend was capped off by presenting a $10,000 check from the Bridgestone Americas Trust Fund to Racing For Kids® to help support the season long hospital visit program. Lisa Boggs, Director of Motorsports for Firestone Racing, presented the check to Racing For Kids® Executive Director and CEO Pat Wright and Robbie Buhl the charity’s National Spokesperson.
Next up in April, IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Series driver Christina Nielsen joined Racing For Kids® at Long Beach’s Miller Hospital for Children & Women. The 25 year old Dane is the daughter of well-known endurance racer Lars-Eric Nielsen . The voung racer entertained a host of patients at the premier hospital. Nielsen went on to win the 2017 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GTD class.
The third visit of the year found the team at Glenwood Autism & Behavioral Health Center, Birmingham, Alabama. They were joined by three Racing For Kids® drivers from the Indy Lights Series. The trio of drivers, which included Shelby Blackstock, Belardi Racing Team, Dalton Kellett and Nico Jamin of Andretti Autosport, helped mark National Autism Awareness Week by entertaining 100 kids and adults at the Center.
Phoenix Children’s Hospital was the scene for the next hospital visit with IndyCar racer Mikhail Aleshin, who made an extended stop to entertain an eager group of patients at the highly regarded Phoenix medical facility. The Russian native had a busy schedule as he visited patients in their rooms, engaged a lively group in the ”Zone” playroom and then made a 30 minute co-host appearance on one of the hospital’s closed circuit TV shows before presenting a Fregin’s Flyer wagon to the hospital.
The first Friday in May featured the annual Racing For Kids® TranSystems golf outing. The company’s employees and vendors came together once again to raise thousands of dollars for the charity. Since 2004 TranSystems has been a major sponsor and has raised nearly $400,000 to help sick kids have a brighter day.
The following stop saw the delivery of another Fregin’s Flyer wagon. This time it was racer Stefan Wilson doing the presenting at Indy’s Peyton Manning St. Vincent Children’s Hospital. The lanky Verizon INDYCAR racer’s friendly and engaging manner was just what several dozen St. Vincent youngsters needed as they battle challenging infirmities. The visit was in advance of the Grand Prix of Indy and The 101st running of The Indy 500.
The annual Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix brought on the next big weekend. Racing For Kids® activities began Thursday on the front lawn of the Children’s Hospital of Michigan’s (CHM) Specialty Center where IMSA Racer Christina Nielsen joined the Racing For Kids team again and was accompanied by young upstart TransAm Driver, Jordan Bernloehr. The duo welcomed several dozen out patients at the Center. The activities continued on Friday with a “Kids at The Track Day” program in partnership with Firestone Racing. Saturday and Sunday found the RFK Team hosting Racing For Kids® VIP Race Package auction winners.
From Michigan it was on to the neighboring state of Wisconsin for an engaging and impressive “Road To Indy” show at the Sheboygan (WI) County Boys & Girls Club in Sheboygan Falls. Headliners in the show were three fast-rising racers: Andretti Autosport’s Mazda Indy Lights driver, Nico Jamin; Team Pelfrey’s drivers Nikita Lastochkin, who competes in the Pro Mazda Series, and Alya Agren from the USF 2000 Series. The youngsters at the club were first treated to a video on the history of Racing For Kids® followed by an energetic video of the wild and extremely close racing in the 2017 Indy 500.
On July 7th, Racing For Kids® switched gears and joined the RedBull Global Rallycross Series prior to their race in Indianapolis. A trio of Red Bull Global Rallycross Series racers, including Tanner Foust of Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross and Patrik Sandell and Chris Atkinson of the Subaru Rally Team USA visited with 75 patients at Indy’s Riley Children’s Hospital at Indiana University Health Center. They engaged each youngster, talked about the exciting world of Red Bull GRC racing, and signed autographs.
Racing For Kids® headed north of the border in mid-July for a stop at Toronto’s Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital. Neil Alberico, Matheus Leist, and Garth Rickards of Carlin Racing spent over an hour with the Holland Bloorview kids, many battling severe disabilities with grit and determination. The Carlin Racing trio engaged the youngsters in lively discourse about the Honda Indy of Toronto weekend racing expectations, the “ins and outs” of big time open wheel racing, and their personal career goals. Joining them was young USF2000 racer Robert Megennis of Team Pelfrey.
Racing For Kids® returned to the United States at the end of the month with a Canadian in tow. Indy Lights Series driver Dalton Kellett of Andretti Autosport joined us at Akron Children’s Hospital. Dalton from Stoufville, Ontario, made bed-to-bed visits on several hospital floors, personally autographing his hero cards and Racing For Kids® hats while telling his young audience about life in the Fast Lane at speeds in excess of 200 miles per hour. Smiles and laughter abounded as he brought a host of smiles and intermittent laughter to halls of the prominent pediatric facility, which was one of the first stops for Racing For Kids® in 1990.
On August 10th, Racing For Kids® headed to the East Coast to hook up with RedBull Global Rallycross for a second visit. This time it was to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Atlantic County Specialty Care Center with drivers Steve Arpin of Loenbro Motorsports and Patrik Sandell and Chris Atkinson of Subaru Rally Team. The Trio of Drivers met with some 60 youngsters, autographing RFK Baseball Caps and posters, and posing for photographs. The kids returned the favor by crafting crayon drawings of race cars for the drivers. Sandell and Arpin went on to complete the weekend with podium finishes. This included a second-place finish by Sandell and two third place finishes by Arpin in the Global Rally Cross Atlantic City double header.
Perhaps the biggest hospital visit of the year took place in late August with the two most recent Indy 500 winners, Takuma Sato & Alexander Rossi, delighting 60 patients and their siblings at Saint Louis’ Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital. Sato who races for Andretti Autosport, won this year’s Indy 500 in an exciting finish holding off a charging Helio Castroneves. Rossi, who drives for Andretti Herta Autospoprt with Curb/Agajanian, won the 2016 Indy 500. He was the first rookie to win the Indy 500 since 2001 and the first American Rookie to win since 1928. At the hospital the duo lifted the veil from a “Fregin’s Flyer” red wagon presenting it to Cardinal Glennon representatives before departing for practice at the inaugural Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at Gateway Motorsports Park.
On August 30th, the 11th annual Racing For Kids® to the Hill celebration took place. The daytime street fair which included, games for the kids, inflatables, music, refreshments, and activities for the whole family preceded a cocktail reception and live luxury auction at Northern Trust. Gourmet fare included offerings from the Dirty Dog Jazz Café, the Hill Seafood and Chop House, Jumps, Café Nini, Luxe Bar and Grill, Fresh Farms Market and National Coney Island. The auction’s luxury items such as exciting getaways and one-of-a-kind adventure packages as well as a two-year lease on a 2017 custom conversion Ford 150 truck from Crest Automotive Group.
Immediately following the Racing For Kids® to the Hill event and prior to the IndyCar Grand Prix at Watkins Glen the team made a stop at Golisano Children’s Hospital at the University of Rochester. We were joined by Kaylen Frederick and T.J. Fischer, two rising stars of the Mazda Road To Indy racing series. Frederick races for Team Pelfrey in the U.S. Formula 2000 series. Fischer is also a member of Team Pelfrey and races in the Pro-Mazda series. The drivers spent two hours visiting with patients and their families throughout the hospital. They gave the children signed Racing For Kids® hats, personal racing cards, auto racing-themed coloring books, and crayons before chatting about their racing careers. Both drivers said they were thrilled to visit the children.
The next visit proved to be an unusual one. It was conducted without drivers! A change to the weekend schedule at Sonoma, California’s GoPro Grand Prix made it impossible for the drivers to attend the annual late summer visit to Santa Rosa’s North Valley School. But, with the ABC Supply, Inc., show car heading to the school, the Racing For Kids® team turned the event into a tutorial on IndyCar Racing. That tutorial featured a discussion of the current sleek machines and the new style Indy Cars, which will make their debut next season. The students quickly warmed to the new program format and had a plethora of well-informed technical questions for Racing For Kids® Executive Director Pat Wright and Pete Garcia, who manages the ABC Supply, Inc. show car program.
In October it was another stop with the RedBull Global Rallycross Series. For a second time in 2017 Racing For Kids® brought professional racers to Long Beach’s Miller Hospital for Children & Women. Steve Arpin of Loenbro Motorsports, Alejo Fernandez of AF Racing, Christian Brooks of Dreyer Reinbold Racing, and Conner Martell and James Rimmer of DirtFish Motorsports – put on quite a show talking about their individual paths to racing prominence, posing for pictures, signing autographs, and handing out their colorful “Hero Cards.” The driver quintet presented Miller Children’s Hospital with a Racing For Kids® “Fregin’s Flyer” red wagon.
At the series awards banquet, Racing For Kids’ National Spokesperson, Robbie Buhl, presented Steve Arpin with the 2017 Racing For Kids Driver Of The Year Award.
The racing season wrapped up with the charity’s fourth visit to Dwaine and Cynthia Willett Children’s Hospital in Savannah, Georgia. Once again Racing For Kids® teamed up with Historic Sports Car Racing to make the visit. Many of the drivers brought their cars and allowed the kids to get hop in and check them out. Drivers passed out hats and enjoyed a casual social event designed to cheer up the patients and their families.
Racing For Kids® thanks all of its generous supporters and racers who for the past 28 years have allowed us to brighten the days for many young patients and their families. We look forward to continuing and enhancing our partnerships with our sponsors and partner racing series, including IndyCar, RedBull Global Rallycross, and Historic Sports Car Racing.