From a distance, the scene on the infield grass in Atlanta Motor Speedway’s turn four ballfield looked like any ordinary game of kickball. But get a little closer, and it was easier to tell that this group of NASCAR drivers, wives, media and young kids -- many wearing kerchiefs over bald heads, a universal badge of honor for cancer warriors – weren’t assembled for a carefree sporting event.
Instead, this group of 10 courageous young cancer survivors was teaming up with Jeff Gordon’s Children’s Foundation to kick off September’s Childhood Cancer Awareness Month with a “Kick-It” kickball game.
Kick-It is a grassroots program founded in 2009 by a 10-year-old with cancer that raises money ($1 million to date) for children’s cancer research by inspiring people across the country to play kickball. Just like a walk or 5k race, participants ask family and friends to sponsor them to play.
Gordon has challenged fans around the country to host as many Kick-It games as possible during this month, and he will match all funds raised.
“This is a devastating disease for not only the children affected but for the families,” said Gordon, whose foundation’s mission is to support children battling cancer by funding programs that improve patients’ quality of life, treatment programs that increase survivorship and pediatric medical research dedicated to finding a cure. “We need to further research to ultimately find a cure. We hope through our Kick-It program we can raise enough funds to reach that goal.”
Saturday at Atlanta Motor Speedway, 10 pediatric cancer patients and survivors from the Aflac Cancer Center were divided between blue team captain Nate Ryan and red team captain Jeff Gluck for a six-inning kickball game. Ryan teamed with media members Krista Voda, Bob Pockrass, Jay Busbee, and spotter T.J. Majors, while Gluck was joined by media members Rutledge Wood and Marty Smith, as well as Sam Busch (Kyle Busch’s wife) and Jacquelyn Butler (David Ragan’s fiancé ).
“Just coming in and seeing these kids’ faces, playing with them, it’s so much fun,” Butler said. “We are so happy to be able to be here and put smiles on their faces.”
“It didn’t matter what was going on, when they called to ask us to play, we were in,” said Busch, who admitted that as a kickball rookie, she prepared for the game by surfing YouTube for game tutorials.
And although the game started off friendly, the competitive juices kicked in by the third inning. Pockrass showed heretofore unknown athletic prowess by catching not one, not two, but three pop fly kicks, and Gluck showed his skills by diving to catch a line-drive kicked by Gordon.
In the end, the blue team won 7-6, but the more important result were the wide grins on the faces of 10 young survivors, and the publicity for Gordon’s monthlong challenge.
Fans can donate to Gordon’s Kick-It game by visiting his game page: http://www.kick-it.org/events/jeff-gordon-kicks-it.
PATRICK GOES PINK - Danica Patrick announced Saturday at Atlanta Motor Speedway that she will pilot a special hot pink race car at the Oct. 12 Dollar General 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in honor of October’s Breast Cancer Awareness month. A line of pink racing memorabilia will also be sold, and a portion of the proceeds will benefit the National Breast Cancer Foundation.
“I’m so lucky to be with someone like GoDaddy, who is prepared to change their paint scheme and give back,” Patrick said. “This isn’t the first time they’ve changed their paint scheme, but this is definitely in my mind the best reason to change it.”
Patrick said she has been touched by cancer in the form of a good friend who tested positive for the breast cancer gene.
“She went ahead and had a double mastectomy, and it was a very long process for her,” Patrick said. “She’s doing great and she’s a very healthy 30-year-old now. So I’m grateful for all the charity work that’s done on behalf of breast cancer to allow for early detection ... so we can kick its (butt).”
BETTER HALF DASH PART II – Charlotte Motor Speedway officials announced Saturday that they will again host the Better Half Dash, a Bandolero race featuring the wives and girlfriends of NASCAR drivers, during the October Bank of America 500 weekend.
The 25-lap charity race, which benefits Motor Racing Outreach (MRO) and Speedway Children’s Charities, will be held on the fronstretch quarter-mile. It will feature many of NASCAR’s “better halves,” including defending champion Jacquelyn Butler (fiancé of David Ragan), Angie Skinner (wife of Mike Skinner), Michelle Gilliland (wife of David Gilliland), Patricia Driscoll (girlfriend of Kurt Busch), Ashley Allgaier (wife of Justin Allgaier), Kristen Yeley (wife of JJ Yeley), Kris Buescher (wife of James Buescher), SPEED TV reporter Wendy Venturini, and MRO’s Melanie Self.
“Last year was so much fun, and I think we’ve come up with so many great ideas to shake things up a little bit and try not to have as many cautions,” Butler said. “We’re already trash taking.”
Some of the changes are a competition caution at lap 15, a field inversion, and a pre-race qualifying session. Many of the women are already going for fittings for new seats this year and taking advice from their better halves.
“I never really understood before what Kurt was talking about when he said loose, tight, stuff like that,” said Patricia Driscoll, girlfriend of Kurt Busch. “It’s a lot of fun to get a little idea of what he goes through on a very small scale. I had a great time.”
The winner of the Better Half Dash will also get $10,000 to give to a charity of her choice, as well as an enormous 7-foot-tall trophy.