Wish upon a star: Dale Jr.’s dedication to ill children leaves lasting impact

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Derek Hoyt was 2 years old when doctors discovered his brain tumor. Surgery and radiation treatments followed. Two years later, the tumor returned, forcing Derek to endure more surgery and radiation treatments.

The disease went away and Derek became a “carefree” kid again, one who fell in love with NASCAR, just like his father Jeff. While Rusty Wallace was Jeff’s driver, Derek gravitated to Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Derek’s Earnhardt diecast collection flourished and his assortment of Earnhardt T-shirts multiplied. Derek joined the Cub Scouts, in part, to build and race pinewood derby cars. His cars always resembled Earnhardt’s cars.

But 12 years after his second bout with a brain tumor, it returned in fall 2015. The prognosis was grave. Derek and his family were told about Make-A-Wish, which grants wishes to children with life-threatening illnesses. Many children choose trips to a Disney park. Some select exotic vacations. Others seek more personal wishes.

Derek Hoyt with Dale Earnhardt Jr. in February 2016 at Daytona International Speedway (Photo: Harold Hinson)

Derek wanted to meet Earnhardt.

He and his family traveled from their Exeter, New Hampshire, home to the 2016 Daytona 500. Meeting Earnhardt was more than Derek could have imagined. They chatted as if old friends instead of strangers who had just met. Earnhardt signed many items, including a red No. 88 pinewood derby car Derek brought.

“That trip,’’ Derek’s mother, Mary, said, “was a lifetime highlight for him, seeing him that happy.’’

Derek died eight weeks later. He was 17.

Jeff and Mary can’t thank Earnhardt enough for spending time with their child and fulfilling his wish. Separately, it’s hard for them to explain what Earnhardt’s visit meant, but they find the words together.

“He’ll understand more of what he’s done for people,’’ Jeff said.

“Once he’s got a child,’’ Mary said.

POWER OF A WISH

As Earnhardt’s Cup career ends this weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway, his fans reminisce about the special moments that still elicit goosebumps. Daytona. Talladega. Bristol. Those are just among the places Earnhardt provided many memories.

The conclusion of Earnhardt’s Cup career, though, is more personal to the children and families who met him through Make-A-Wish and similar programs. To them, he is not an action hero who drives fast cars and appears on their TV. Instead, Earnhardt is a compassionate and humble man who stood before them, sharing stories, answering questions and uplifting spirits. Those interactions made a lasting impact to the families and Earnhardt.

The prospect of meeting Earnhardt inspired one child to cope with monthly spinal taps and years of chemo treatments so he could one day meet his favorite driver. That child wasn’t the only one to use a wish as motivation. Sometimes a dream can do more than medicine.

Dr. Doug Scothorn, a pediatric hematologist and oncologist at Mission Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina, has seen the power of a wish while treating children with cancer.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. meets Make-A-Wish child Victor Couto at Phoenix Raceway. (Photo: Dustin Long)

“The experience is part of it,’’ Scothorn said, “but the main benefit is the hope that they have from it and recognizing that just because they’re going through a serious illness that they can still be kids and they can do stuff kids do and that their life is not defined by their disease.’’

He recommends Make-A-Wish to his patients and their families because of such benefits. The organization granted more than 15,000 wishes, a record, in fiscal year 2016-17.

Earnhardt ranks among the top 10 athletes granting wishes in the organization’s 37-year history. He’s met more than 250 children in his career.

Earnhardt met his final wish child as a full-time Cup driver last weekend at Phoenix Raceway when he was introduced to 10-year-old Victor Couto and his family. Victor, who is from Boca Raton, Florida, had heart surgery when he was 5 days old for a congenital cardiac condition. He had heart surgery again when he was 4 years old. He may need more surgery as he grows.

Gustavo Couto said that what Earnhardt did for his son “speaks to what’s good about us as people in general. Yes, he’s famous, but he’s using that in a very positive impact for kids and even families. There are good people out there. (Meeting a celebrity) doesn’t cure any disease, it doesn’t solve any problem, but it does create hope, it creates relief, it creates a moment of light. A moment of goodness.’’

Victor put it another way. He said meeting Earnhardt made him “really happy.’’

‘SCREAMING AND CLAPPING’

Sixteen-year-old Matthew Garland stood outside Earnhardt’s motorhome earlier this month at Texas Motor Speedway petting Gus, Earnhardt’s Irish Setter, who had wandered up to the Springtown, Texas, teen.

Matthew suffered a stroke when he was 6 that left him in a coma for 19 days. The left side of his face and right side of his body suffered paralysis from the stroke and his body is unable to regulate its temperature. He undergoes eight hours a day of dialysis, is in stage 3 renal failure and on the list for a kidney transplant.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. talks to Make-A-Wish child Matthew Garland at Texas Motor Speedway. (Photo: Dustin Long)

It was his wish to meet Earnhardt.

As Matthew pet Gus, Earnhardt appeared. Matthew was caught off guard to see his favorite driver standing in front of him. When he had been told two days before that he would meet Earnhardt, Matthew “was screaming and clapping and cheering,’’ his mother, Brenda Garland, said. Her son, so excited, couldn’t sleep that night.

But now before Earnhardt, Matthew said nothing.

“I’ve never seen him at a loss for words,’’ Brenda said. “He’s very conversational. He very rarely meets a stranger. It took him a second. He was so beside himself that he couldn’t say anything but yes.’’

Eventually Matthew talked with Earnhardt, who took off his cap and autographed it for his new friend, signed a few other items and took pictures with him.

Brenda wanted to cry for joy but she won’t let herself shed tears in front of her son. She stays strong for him.

But later that night, when they returned to the hotel, she planned to find time to be alone.

INSPIRATION

The chemo 15-year-old Cainan Yaskiewicz took during his first six months of treatment was referred to as “red devil.’’

“It speaks for itself,’’ said Cainan, diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia when he was 7 years old. “It really was a red devil. That stuff was terrible. It made you feel so weak and so sick because it just blew through your whole system. It killed every cell in its path. That would really be a bad day for me … or getting a spinal tap. Afterwards, it would just hurt so bad.’’

Dale Earnhardt Jr. meets Make-A-Wish child Cainan Yaskiewicz at Charlotte Motor Speedway in October 2013. (Photo: Yaskiewicz family)

Shannon Yaskiewicz recalls the pain her son suffered, how he screamed, growled and squeezed her hand as hard as he could to keep from crying during such times.

“I held him as much as I could, and I just let him know I wished I could take (the pain) away,’’ she said.

Earnhardt helped Cainan through those bad days. Cainan told Make-A-Wish that he wanted to meet his role model, but his wish could not be granted until his treatments were completed and his immune system restored.

Cainan’s treatments lasted more than three years.

Shannon said her son used his wish of meeting Earnhardt as “the light at the end of the tunnel’’ to get those days. 

When Cainan was a month from completing his treatments, the 11-year-old told his mother to make sure Make-A-Wish knew he would be ready to meet Earnhardt soon.

Two months later, Cainan traveled from his home in Sky Valley, Georgia, to Charlotte Motor Speedway to watch the 2013 Coca-Cola 600 and meet Earnhardt. The experience was just as special for Cainan’s parents.

“Seeing and hearing him laugh … my husband and I would just look at each other and just smile,’’ Shannon said. “It was so wonderful.

“We weren’t talking about doctor visits. We were able to go on a car ride and talk about the fun things we were going to do, meeting Dale Jr. We hadn’t seen that light in his eyes in a long time.’’

“A MOMENT OF TIME”

Jayden Crutcher spent much of summer 2013 in a hospital. He was 10 years old, a time when summer is supposed to be about playing outside, riding bicycles and swimming. Instead, he spent more than 100 days in a hospital. The few days he could leave, he was confined to home because his immune system hadn’t recovered from the high doses of chemo combating his Acute Myeloid Leukemia.

There was little doubt when given the opportunity for a wish what it would be. Jayden’s room is full of Earnhardt items, including diecast cars, a blanket and curtains.

The Mason City, Illinois, native traveled with his family to Charlotte, North Carolina, to attend the October 2013 Cup race there and meet Earnhardt.

As the golf cart with Jayden and his family approached Earnhardt’s motorcoach, Jayden nearly jumped off before it stopped.

“A moment of time just stood still,’’ Lisa Crutcher said of her son’s meeting with Earnhardt. “It brought tears. You just look at what he’s been through. His one little itty-bitty wish to meet Dale Earnhardt Jr. changed his little mind. He goes ‘nothing is going to bring me down.’ ‘’

The following Valentine’s Day, Jayden’s leukemia returned, and he underwent four months of chemo. In August 2014, Jayden had a bone marrow transplant.

He’s off any medicine now and is considered cancer-free, but the treatments caused complications, particularly with his lungs.

“We have other challenges,’’ Lisa said, “but we’ll take those.”

DALE INSTEAD OF DISNEY

Many children prepared questions to ask Earnhardt during their meeting, but the sport’s most popular driver often had one himself.

Why did they pick me?

Anything they could do and they want to come to a race and meet us,’’ Earnhardt said. “It’s surprising to me. If I were a kid, I’d be like ‘I want to go to Disneyland’ and take in all the opportunities that would be there for that particular trip. You could imagine that a kid would just have the most incredible time at a place like that and they come to a race.’’

Children have chosen races for years, some wanting to meet Earnhardt’s legendary father. Earnhardt said his father “set a great example for me” and others in the sport by hosting Make-A-Wish children.

“It was important to him,’’ Earnhardt said.

As it is important to Earnhardt. He understands the impact he can have on children and their families.

“They are there for a good moment,’’ he said of their meetings. “They want to be there, the kid is excited. While there’s this side of you that wants to break down and be sad, you can’t help but be affected by it emotionally, they’re wanting to meet their favorite driver.

“I imagine they spend a lot of time around a lot of people that try to take their mind off the situation they’re in and you try to do that. You try to find anything that peaks their interest and expand on it and find what you have in common. I’m just a normal person … and you try to show them that and help them see that ‘man, this guy is just like the guy next door’ and feel very comfortable in that conversation with you.’’

It’s not just the children who benefit from such meetings. The visits made a lasting impression on Earnhardt.

“It has had a positive effect on me as I think it has on the kids and the parents,’’ he said. “It’s been something that has helped me understand some of the more important things in life and where my priorities should lie, not to take things for granted, really appreciate the people around you.’’

Earnhardt, whose wife Amy is due to deliver the couple’s first child in the spring, is inspired by the parents of children facing life-threatening illnesses.

“The parents that I have met have given me the strength to face anything,’’ he said. “Being around strong people that handle those situations the way they do gives you faith and confidence that you would be able to do a similar thing if put in that situation.’’

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JR Motorsports reveals 2019 schemes for Noah Gragson, Justin Allgaier

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On Tuesday, two 2019 paint schemes for JR Motorsports were revealed.

Noah Gragson‘s Armour livery for his new No. 1 Chevrolet will sport a blue, gold and white paint scheme.

Justin Allgaier revealed a special paint scheme honoring America’s farmers. Sponsor Brandt posted a video to go along with the announcement that juxtaposes the wrapping of the Chevrolet Camaro with the use of their equipment and a poem by Walterrean Salley.

 

Dale Earnhardt Jr. named pace truck driver for 2019 Daytona 500

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No matter who wins the pole for the 2019 Daytona 500, they will start behind Dale Earnhardt Jr. He has been named as the pace truck driver for the season opening race.

The two-time Daytona 500 winner will lead the field to green for the 61st edition of the “Great American Race” in a Chevrolet Silverado pace truck. It will be the first time a truck has been used as a pace vehicle for the Daytona 500.

Chevrolet has previously paced the Daytona 500 on 12 occasions: seven with Camaro and five with Corvette.

“I’ve had a lot of fun and a lot of success at Daytona over the years, and now I can’t wait to get out on that track in a Silverado,” Earnhardt said in a press release. “Away from the track I’ve driven Chevy trucks all my life, and I’m excited to have this unique experience of pacing the Daytona 500 with the Silverado.”

This year Earnhardt was the Grand Marshal for the Feb. 18 running of the 500, giving the command to start engines.

Earnhardt won the 2004 and 2014 editions of the 500. He has two July victories on the track as well.

“Dale Earnhardt Jr. was the perfect choice to pace the race because of his enthusiasm for the sport, his long history with Chevrolet and his love of trucks,” said Jim Campbell, Chevrolet’s U.S. Vice President of Performance Vehicles and Motorsports in a press release. “It’ll be exciting to have Dale lead the field to green in the strongest, most advanced Silverado ever.”

 

NASCAR partners with Sportradar for gambling fraud detection service

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NASCAR has entered a multi-year agreement with Sportradar to make use of its sports betting fraud monitoring services, the two companies announced Tuesday.

As part of the agreement, Sportradar’s Fraud Detection System (FDS) will monitor domestic and global betting activity for signs of fraudulent activity for all three of NASCAR’s national series: the Cup, Xfinity and Gander Outdoors Truck Series.

NASCAR will also have use of Sportradar’s Education and Prevention Services, which includes on-site workshops for NASCAR drivers, teams, officials and associated stakeholders delivered by Sportradar’s integrity and educational experts. Sportradar’s Integrity Services will also help NASCAR develop a full-fledged betting integrity program, including betting-related rules and policies.

NASCAR and Sportrader have an established history. In 2015, SportsData, a subsidiary of Sportrader, partnered with NASCAR to distribute its live timing and scoring data to third-party digital outlets.

The announcement of the partnership is the last step in NASCAR embracing sports gambling following a ruling by the Supreme Court in May that allowed states to decide if they allow sports betting.

In October, Dover International Speedway in Delaware became the first track that hosts NASCAR to introduce at-track betting.

That weekend NASCAR President Steve Phelps said the sanctioning body will add rules clarifying its policy for competitors in 2019.

“I think for ’19 we’ll have some rules that we’ll put in place,” Phelps said. “For right now, there’ll be betting here. We’ll study and see how that goes, but I think we’ll have some rules in place for sponsorship, for what betting looks like and continue to see what happens in the landscape overall.”

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NASCAR Cup Series race start times announced for 2019

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NASCAR has announced its race start times for the 2019 Cup Series season, with a notable change in start time for the playoff opener at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

After a start time of 3 p.m. ET this year, next season’s race will begin at 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT on NBCSN.

“Moving the start time for the September race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway is fitting because it will deliver a better experience for our fans attending the race, and kick off the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs in primetime,” said Steve Herbst, NASCAR’s Senior Vice President of Broadcasting and Production in a press release. “Each race weekend, including Las Vegas, is unique, and we work collaboratively with broadcast partners, teams and tracks to ensure the ideal timing is selected for our events.”

Other notable start times:

  • The Daytona 500 is scheduled for Feb. 17 at 2:30 p.m. ET on FOX.
  • The March 31 race at Texas Motor Speedway will start one hour later, moving from a 2 p.m. ET start to 3 p.m. ET. The race also moves to FOX.
  • The start time for New Hampshire Motor Speedway’s July 22 starts one hour later, moving from 2 p.m. ET to 3 p.m. ET.
  • Martinsville Speedway’s Oct. 28 playoff shifts a half-hour later to a 3 p.m. ET start.

Here’s the full schedule with start times and TV and radio networks:

DATE

RACE

NETWORK

RACE START (ET)

RADIO

Sun, Feb 10, 2019

Daytona 500 Qualifying

FOX

12:00 PM

MRN

Sun, Feb 10, 2019

The Clash

FS1

3:00 PM

MRN

Thu, Feb 14, 2019

Duel at Daytona

FS1

7:00 PM

MRN

Sun, Feb 17, 2019

Daytona 500

FOX

2:30 PM

MRN

Sun, Feb 24, 2019

Atlanta

FOX

2:00 PM

PRN

Sun, Mar 03, 2019

Las Vegas

FOX

3:30 PM

PRN

Sun, Mar 10, 2019

ISM Raceway

FOX

3:30 PM

MRN

Sun, Mar 17, 2019

Auto Club Speedway

FOX

3:30 PM

MRN

Sun, Mar 24, 2019

Martinsville

FS1

2:00 PM

MRN

Sun, Mar 31, 2019

Texas

FOX

3:00 PM

PRN

Sun, Apr 07, 2019

Bristol

FS1

2:00 PM

PRN

Sat, Apr 13, 2019

Richmond

FOX

7:30 PM

MRN

Sun, Apr 28, 2019

Talladega

FOX

2:00 PM

MRN

Sun, May 05, 2019

Dover

FS1

2:00 PM

MRN

Sat, May 11, 2019

Kansas

FS1

7:30 PM

MRN

Sat, May 18, 2019

All-Star Open

FS1

6:00 PM

MRN

Sat, May 18, 2019

All-Star Race

FS1

8:00 PM

MRN

Sun, May 26, 2019

Charlotte

FOX

6:00 PM

PRN

Sun, Jun 02, 2019

Pocono

FS1

2:00 PM

MRN

Sun, Jun 09, 2019

Michigan

FS1

2:00 PM

MRN

Sun, Jun 23, 2019

Sonoma

FS1

3:00 PM

PRN

Sun, Jun 30, 2019

Chicagoland

NBCSN

3:00 PM

MRN

Sat, Jul 06, 2019

Daytona

NBC

7:30 PM

MRN

Sat, Jul 13, 2019

Kentucky

NBCSN

7:30 PM

PRN

Sun, Jul 21, 2019

New Hampshire

NBCSN

3:00 PM

PRN

Sun, Jul 28, 2019

Pocono

NBCSN

3:00 PM

MRN

Sun, Aug 04, 2019

Watkins Glen

NBCSN

3:00 PM

MRN

Sun, Aug 11, 2019

Michigan

NBCSN

3:00 PM

MRN

Sat, Aug 17, 2019

Bristol

NBCSN

7:30 PM

PRN

Sun, Sep 01, 2019

Darlington

NBCSN

6:00 PM

MRN

Sun, Sep 08, 2019

Indianapolis

NBC

2:00 PM

IMS

Sun, Sep 15, 2019

Las Vegas

NBCSN

7:00 PM

PRN

Sat, Sep 21, 2019

Richmond

NBCSN

7:30 PM

MRN

Sun, Sep 29, 2019

Charlotte

NBC

2:30 PM

PRN

Sun, Oct 06, 2019

Dover

NBCSN

2:30 PM

MRN

Sun, Oct 13, 2019

Talladega

NBC

2:00 PM

MRN

Sun, Oct 20, 2019

Kansas

NBC

2:30 PM

MRN

Sun, Oct 27, 2019

Martinsville

NBCSN

3:00 PM

MRN

Sun, Nov 03, 2019

Texas

NBCSN

3:00 PM

PRN

Sun, Nov 10, 2019

ISM Raceway

NBC

2:30 PM

MRN

Sun, Nov 17, 2019

Homestead-Miami

NBC

3:00 PM

MRN

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