When 16-year-old Dani (Gamel) Cuevas pondered how to capture her stay at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta in a design of Chase Elliott’s Cup car, she quickly found inspiration.
“When I was in the hospital, I spent a lot of time with therapy dogs,” Dani told NBC Sports.
That time was always meaningful to her.
“They were just so sweet,” she said. “They were always so good.”
The car Elliott will drive this weekend in the opening race of the Cup playoffs at Darlington Raceway (6 p.m. ET on USA Network) will feature dogs on the side of the Chevrolet Camaro ZL 1, including a pair like the golden retriever therapy dogs that visited the hospital. There’s also paw prints all over the car. The dog on the hood of his car? That’s inspired by Stella, the family’s dog.
It took Dani a few times to get the design just right.
“I kept on making the dogs too big for the car,” she said.
She got it right and will give Elliott’s car a look that will stand out among the other cars racing.
The special paint scheme is a collaboration between the Chase Elliott Foundation, sponsor NAPA, Hendrick Motorsports and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta to have a pediatric cancer patient design the car. September is National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.
Dani’s design also will be featured on Elliott’s fire suit, helmet, gloves and shoes that he will wear in the race. Those items will be auctioned via the NASCAR Foundation’s auction page on eBay beginning Monday and closing Sept. 8. All auction proceeds will go to the Chase Elliott Foundation to benefit the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
In addition, a portion of each die-cast sold of the car will be donated with the auction proceeds.
The Desi9n to Drive program has raised and donated more than $250,000 to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta in its first five years.
Dani is back home in the Atlanta area after ringing the bell to complete her chemotherapy treatments on Nov. 18, 2021 — two years after she was diagnosed with Acute lymphocytic leukemia. She’s a junior in high school and has a couple of art classes with designs of going to college for art.
She also has displayed her talent on a special scarf she designed for the Atlanta United FC soccer team.
Elliott, who has a Doberman named Fletch, said Dani’s design stood out for the use of the dogs.
“It ties in a lot of neat storylines and a story that she can tell, too and is close to her personally,” the Cup regular season champion told NBC Sports.
Dani has always liked to draw and color. Yolanda Gamel said her daughter spent a lot of time in the hospital doing art work.
“She loves to do it,” Gamel said.
To see her daughter’s design on a car is special for Gamel.
“I’m really excited for her, and I believe that it opens the door for future opportunities,” Gamel told NBC Sports. “She’s actually found her passion. A lot of people, sometimes they don’t know what they want to do in life. She definitely knows what she wants to do in life.”
Elliott said he’s looking forward to meeting Dani and showing her the car and NASCAR.
“That’s a cool piece of the puzzle that you get to introduce somebody into our sport,” Elliott said. “Somebody who has a positive outlook on life and to see their imagination come to life in the biggest stage that we can offer here in one of our bigger events throughout the season.”