There’s an old saying about charity beginning at home. And that’s what needs to be happening right now in NASCAR. We’ve got some racing greats who gave their all for the sport of stock car racing who are having some hard times getting medical care, paying the doctors’ bills, and meeting their everyday needs.
Recently, we found out that former racing great Fred Lorenzen was living in a nursing home as a result of his Alzheimer’s and that he was forgetting things, is beginning to forget names, was getting injured from falls at home, and that he pretty much wasn’t able to take care of himself. This is a far cry from the Golden Boy who wheeled his #28 Holman-Moody Ford around the track and winning. Fred gave his all for stock car racing and for the NASCAR under Bill France Sr. And how is Fred and his family being repaid by the France family for the sacrifices he made? They’re not. The Frances continue to hide behind the “independent contractor” clause. Despite the fact that NASCAR has a multi-million dollar charity which could easily assist Fred, it doesn’t. There are also a number of drivers who have charities who could step up and help Fred out. But they don’t.
Two time Busch Series champion Sam Ard was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson‘s Diseases several years ago. Sam and his wife Jo had to sell off Sam’s trophies, Martinsville clocks, championship rings, and other valuable memorabilia to try to keep up with the staggering medical bills of both Sam’s diseases and Jo’s blindness. The Old Timers Racing Club, through their Medical Hardship Fund, has been holding the Legends Helping Legends Fundraisers to assist drivers like Sam and other racing folks from the glory days of NASCAR. I attend them and was at the one they held for Sam. Racing greats like Rex White, Ned Jarrett, Bobby Allison, and others turned out to sign autographs for the fundraising event. All of those drivers, who like Sam, have no sort of medical help or pension fund to fall back on because of NASCAR’s continued hiding behind the “independent contractors” clause.
Both Mr. Happy and Dale Jr. stepped up and made donations to Sam’s care. Mr. Happy donated a van which was used in one of the Shell commercials he was in. The shocker was when Kyle Busch donated $100,000 to help with Sam’s care. Still, this is only 3 high profile drivers out of a how many? And where is NASCAR and the Frances in all of this? Neither the Frances, NASCAR, nor their “foundation” have donated a penny. There was a fundraiser at Richmond which raised $36,000 to help the Ard family out which had some fancy PR spin put on it to make it appear it was NASCAR making the donations but it wasn’t. For a supposed charity which pulls in untold millions and only donates $9 million to various charities, all of which benefit NASCAR and/or the France family either directly or indirectly, not to donate to former greats like Sam who helped put NASCAR on the map is almost criminal. All it takes is adding one sentence to the charter or rules to make it happen.
And what about all the high profile drivers who were shocked by Busch’s donation? What happened to the one-upmanship that drivers of old use to engage in? Drivers not wanting to be bested by their competitors? We didn’t see any of Busch’s vocal rivals step up and match his donation or try to beat it. Only Mr happy and Dale Jr. stepped up.
And what about Sam’s current condition? This is from a friend of the Ard family:
Sam is now a totally bed-ridden invalid. He is cared for at home by his wife 24/7. His request was and still is not to be placed in a nursing home.
It has been draining physically, emotionally, and financially. They are in desperate need of help at this time.
As you can see, Sam’s condition isn’t improving and the physical, mental, emotional, and financial drain on the family is still there. I know the toll it can take as I’m taking care of someone who was has been suffering with a seizure disorder for over 3 years.
Right now, Jo spends app. $300.00 a month for items which the VA does not provide. She struggles and juggles to make ends meet each month on his social security check. Any help would be appreciated, even gift cards to places like Walmart and grocery stores. There is a hole in her roof which she can't afford to have repaired. She is in need of a cooking stove, washer and dryer as theirs are about shot.
If this isn’t the perfect opportunity for Lowe’s or Home Depot to step up and help them out, I don’t know what is.
And how much did the Frances pay towards Bobby Allison's medical bills from his terrifying crash at Pocono that nearly took his life? Zip. It took Bobby over 20 years to pay those medical bills off. It would've taken the France family one check to pay off Bobby's medical bills. But no, they preferred to hide behind the "independent contractor" clause.
So, here’s what I’d like to see happen. I know the folks from NASCAR are reading this along with some team PR and marketing people. Get off your duffs. Set up a charity to help out drivers and other folks who were in the racing business who need medical assistance or help with their medical bills or their medical care. NASCAR, ISC, and SMI could have a “Sam Ard Day” at one of their tracks and take the ticket money and donate it to help Sam out. Or they could take 10% of their ticket sales for all NASCAR events and donate it to the Racing Legends Medical Hardship Fund since it already exists. You team PR and marketing people, hit your drivers, team owners, and sponsors up for donations and services that they can provide to help these ailing former greats. Home Depot and Lowe’s could donate materials and personnel to help make houses wheelchair accessible or makes repairs that are sorely needed or donate things like washers, dryers, stoves, ovens, or fridges. The Big 3 could donate vans that are configured to transport a wheelchair-bound person. UPS and FedEx could ship medical supplies and medications to these ailing folks for free. Drivers could donate 10% of their race earnings or souvenir sales for the year to help out. If a driver got the testicular fortitude, he could donate his entire race winnings to help out. Team owners could pass the hat in their shops for donations or make their own donations separate from that of the teams and drivers. The ones who own vehicle dealerships could even help out by doing what I suggested the Big 3 do. Or they could modify a vehicle to be donated.
And how about some of you TV network people? How about donating some airtime to promote fundraisers like the Legends Helping Legends Fundraiser events? Or even send a camera crew out there to cover them? Speed’s got the personnel to do it and it’s just up the road in Mooresville. Or blocking off a day and instead of showing those fluff and reality shows that few people watch, how about running a telethon to raise funds? This would be the perfect event to put the Motormouth Brothers to work. Have them shill for the fundraisers like they do for everyone else that owns or sponsors them. You could get some current drivers in there to help out or answer the phones and get some former greats like Buddy Baker, Rex White, Junior Johnson, and others to tell some stories about the good old days of racing and get their opinions on the current state of the sport. Get Wanda Lund on there to talk about some of her recipes and some of her stories about her husband Tiny and some of the other racing greats. It could be a fundraiser and a history lesson in one.
And why should the current day drivers and crewmembers get involved with something like this? Because if it wasn’t for the likes of Sam Ard, Suitcase Jake, Rex White, James Hylton, and others, there wouldn’t be a NASCAR or a job for them. These folks pioneered the way for them to be able to do what they do today. They kept NASCAR from going under when it looked like it was going to fold several times. Think about James Hylton. He got his start as a crewmember on Rex White’s team before he became a racer and was the 1966 ROY. Rex was a pioneer of using jackscrews and using camber to turn the cars. He wasn’t just a racer, he was also a mechanical genius. Rex got his start turning wrenches for Frankie Schneider. Suitcase Jake was probably one of the most famous names in the garage outside of the drivers because of his mechanical and crew chief abilities and for his moving from team to team.
Think about today’s drivers. How many of them have come up through the ranks of being a mechanic first? How many crew chiefs started out working for free on somebody’s car as part of a volunteer crew? Or how about some of the great practical jokes that were played like those done by Curtis Turner, Joe Weatherly, and Tiny Lund? These are the things which took a regional racing series and turned it into a national brand name. These are the people who worked 2-3 jobs and sacrificed so much to be able to have a racing career. If not for these folks, today’s drivers would still be running in some lower level racing series trying to scrape together a couple of bucks to buy tires, parts, or gasoline to run their next race. Just like these racing pioneers had to do. So maybe it’s time for these big buck, high profile racing folks to remember these former greats and help them out since the sanctioning body that they sacrificed everything for won’t. After all, these drivers, team owners, and crewmembers wouldn’t be where they are today if it wasn’t for the likes of Sam Ard, James Hylton, Rex White, Suitcase Jake, Junior Johnson, and others too numerous to name from the history of the sport.