Racing
for Kids

Star Mazda Championship Driver Ryan Justice visits children at Stanford University's Lucile Salter Packard Children's Hospital.

Racing for Kids Helping Sick Children http://www.racingforkids.org/index2.asp

Founded in 1989 at Children's Hospital of Michigan, Racing For Kids® is designed to use the increasing popularity of motorsports to bring public attention and funding to the health care needs of children. The hospital visits form the heart of the program. Each Racing For Kids® driver and rider visits children in Children's Hospitals where they race. They spend time with each sick youngster answering questions about their sport, handing out the distinctive Racing For Kids®/Aventis hats and signing autographs.

Racing For Kids® representatives have visited with more than 12,000 young patients in over 180 hospitals in the United States, Canada, and Australia. In addition, over $2.5 million has been raised through donations and specific fund raising events for children's hospitals across the country.

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JPW41@aol.com Scheuldes not updated since 03/31/05. Any plans for 2006?

Roger Yasukawa’s initial attempt to coax a smile from 6-year-old Jessica Potter is unsuccessful. Undaunted, he spies the Wiggles on the TV in the patient’s room at Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital. Ah, another avenue.

“Will you watch me race on TV this Sunday?” he asks in a soft but direct tone.

The youngster tentatively nods, so Yasukawa adds, “and don’t forget to cheer for the blue No. 24 car. I’ll be counting on you” as he signs a poster of himself wearing a bright blue racing suit.

The child’s eyes brighten and a smile enlivens her pale face. The gentle encouragement gives her something to look forward to during another long weekend of convalescence, and a brief but lively dialogue about Yasukawa’s colorful helmet ensues.

“I like my hat very much,” Potter said as she fit it over her blonde locks.

The scene – with varying degree of success – is repeated as the IndyCar Series driver and Robbie Buhl visit several patient rooms at the only Level I pediatric trauma center in the Inland Empire region of Southern California. But even if one smile was returned during the two-hour visit, both representatives of Racing for Kids will have left fulfilled.

History of helping hands

Founded in 1989 at Children’s Hospital of Michigan by Dr. William Pinsky, a pediatric cardiologist who visualized the correlation between his vocation and avocation, the non-profit Racing for Kids has raised more than $3.5 million to benefit children’s hospitals around the world.

Last month, $30,000 secured through fund-raisers was presented to the Ochsner Clinic Foundation in New Orleans – where Pinsky is executive vice president and chief academic officer—to assist children and Ochsner employees devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Last week, more than $6,000 was raised during a visit to the Humana corporate headquarters in Louisville to benefit the city’s Kosair Children’s Hospital.

Beyond financial gifts, hospital visits in every IndyCar Series race market also are forums to use the popularity of motorsports to direct public attention to the health care needs of children.

“Part of what we do is an educational process that we need to improve our child health care in this country,” said J. Patrick Wright, the group’s executive director who introduced Pinsky to Buhl more than 15 years ago. “We offer the hospital the opportunity to work with us to generate media attention around the big event in town that weekend, which of course is the IndyCar Series. Our goal is to make people think about the hospital.”

There also are immediate benefits for the patients, some of whom face an uncertain future. Buhl, co-owner of Dreyer & Reinbold Racing and a former IndyCar Series-winning driver, and Yasukawa disperse autographed Racing for Kids hats and posters in patient rooms or playrooms. Ambulatory patients are taken outside to see, touch and sit in the Racing for Kids show car.

“The attending physicians tell us that visits like these are a very important part of a child’s recovery therapy,” Wright said. “That really is the heart of the program – when we go into the hospital rooms.”

History of service

Wright saw that Buhl’s easygoing personality and magnetism would dovetail with Pinsky’s outreach plans. It didn’t take long for Buhl, whose great-great grandfather Hiram Walker in 1896 donated the building that took Children’s Hospital in Detroit from a series of rented houses and barns to an admirable facility, to accept the off-track responsibilities.

He’s been a pillar of the program from day one.

“The purpose of the visits from my standpoint is to make the kids’ day a little bit better,” said Buhl, who has by conservative estimates touched the lives of more than 15,000 patients as the organization’s national spokesman. “If they are a race fan or not, it doesn’t matter. You give them a hat, break up the monotony of their day, and it’s an important part of their recovery.”

It’s also has been an important part of Buhl’s event weekend, lending perspective in the occasionally insular sport.

“As a driver, when you have a bad day at the racetrack – the selfish side of it – these visits give you a great perspective on how lucky we are to do what we do at the racetrack,” said Buhl, who hung up his firesuit in 2004.

“On a grander scale, we want to raise the awareness level of the health care needs for kids and the hospitals. That’s the mission.”

Wright relays a story about Racing for Kids’ first visit to Daoi Hospital in Tokyo, which began with hospital officials educating Buhl about Japanese culture and what to expect from the young patients.

“They said that Japanese culture is such that the kids will be very quiet and respectful, but don’t think they aren’t interested and don’t be offended,” Wright recalled of the 2003 visit. “So Robbie walked into the playroom with his racing suit on, sits on his helmet and says ‘Konechiwa,’ and they replied ‘Konechiwa’ (an informal hello) and it took off from there. It was as animated a visit as I’ve ever seen.

“Robbie is the prototypical personality; he’s very easy with kids from the very first visit. He puts the kids in a comfortable position and then it’s a very lively experience.”

The next year, he was joined in the playroom by sumo wrestlers in their colorful robes, who quickly and easily hoisted the svelte Buhl above their heads. Like the program itself, it was an uplifting experience.

“The reaction you get from one nurse or one parent who says, ‘We haven’t seen them smile or respond to somebody’ is wonderful,” Buhl said. “Just to hear that you’ve made a difference in that one person’s day at that hospital is worth it.”

Another perspective altered

Yasukawa has been a quick study during his association with Racing for Kids. The 28-year-old bachelor spent part of his youth in Japan, studied at the American School in Milan, Italy, and lives in California. But he initially was uncomfortable—unsure how to act and what to say in the presence of sick or injured children. The emotional anguish was somewhat overwhelming.

He quickly found the secret: be yourself.

“It’s certainly changed my perspective on life,” Yasukawa said. “We do this before every race and every hospital is different, and obviously you see different kids every time. It’s just little things that really amaze me like us wearing a blue shirt instead of white shirt so they don’t think we’re doctors and get scared.

“Not only the kids, the parents of kids who have been here a long time get excited. I never guessed it would have much impact on the kids and the parents. It’s great. Every stop is special and the stop in Japan (in April) was even more special because it was just down the street from my grandparents’ house and I had one of my family members (in the hospital). It’s something special for me.

“It’s great to see smiling faces.”

Media Contacts: John Griffin, IRL, (317) 492-6579, jgriffin@indyracing.com Tom Savage, IRL, (317) 492-6566, tsavage@indyracing.com World Wide Web: www.indycar.com

Pecorari wins Racing For Kids® /Star Mazda Award

Robbie Pecorari won this year’s Racing for Kids®/ Star Mazda Pro Series Driver Performance Award. The award goes to the top performing Racing For Kids® racer in the Star Mazda Series races at Road Atlanta and Mazda Raceway tracks.

Pecorari, from Andersen Walko Racing, edged out teammate Graham Rahal, 34-32, in the final point standings to take the award. James Hinchcliffe placed third with 31 points and Star Mazda 2005 (season) Champion Raphael Matos took fourth place with 29 points.

With the award Pecorari wins $2000 -- $1,000 going to him personally and and $1,000 going to his favorite children’s hospital.

Racing For Kids®, founded in 1989 in Detroit, is an international charity dedicated to using motorsports to focus public attention and funding on the health care needs of children and the institutions that care for them.

As part of the program, Racing For Kids ® drivers visit sick children in children’s hospitals wherever they race. These driver celebrity visits are an important part of each child’s recovery therapy.

The Racing for Kids®/ Star Mazda Pro Series Driver Performance Award is given to the driver who earns the most points from the aforementioned two races: Sept 30 at Road Atlanta and Oct. 15 at Mazda Raceway (Monterey, CA).

For those two races, points were awarded on a sliding scale for first to 15th place finishers. Winners received 20 points, second place 18 with two point intervals to sixth place where the intervals declined by one point. A 15th place finish received one point.

Pecorari took the award when he won the Road Atlanta race and finished third in the Mazda Raceway event. Rahal took second in both races. Hinchcliffe won the Mazda Raceway event, but took fifth at Road Atlanta. Pecorari and Hinchcliffe also won $1000 each for their race wins, receiving $500 of that personally with $500 going to the Children’s Health Care of Atlanta (formerly Scottish Rite) and Lucile Salter Packard Children’s Hospital in Palo Alto, CA.

11/23/2005 - www.racingforkids.org/fastlanenews.asp?ID=0

Related Issue: Women Racers Directory, Women in Racing, Women Racers, More Women in Racing, Race Schedules, Notable Women

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