Drivers, fans and promoters bring cancer awareness to local dirt tracks
By Bert Lehman
Editor, Full Throttle Magazine
Cancer is never an easy topic to talk about. It is a word that people never want to hear. Unfortunately it is a word that we hear far too often, even in the local racing community.
Some fans, promoters and drivers are taking steps to help bring awareness to cancer, while also raising funds to fight against cancer. Below are a few examples of this effort. If you have more examples of how the local racing community is fighting back against cancer, please email them to [email protected].
Racing for a Reason
Shawano Speedway has been hosted a Racing for a Reason Night the last two years to bring awareness to childhood cancer and raise money for local charities. The night originated from an idea someone at the track had to have a benefit for Reed Luepke of Bonduel.
Reed was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia on Oct. 20, 2009. Brad Luepke, Reed’s dad, says Shawano Speedway contacted him with the Racing for a Reason Night idea.
“They wanted to do an event to benefit our family because Reed was so sick,” Brad says. Lori (Brad’s wife) and I talked. He had a benefit already for him so we thought we didn’t really need that but why don’t we do it and raise money for local charities.”
The first Racing for a Reason Night held in 2010 raised $4,000. The event included silent auctions and bucket drops.
Brad says his family wasn’t too involved in the first one, but he and Lori decided to become more involved to help the event grow. In 2011 Racing for a Reason Night raised $9,000. That money was donated to Child Life Services at St. Vincent Hospital in Green Bay and HEAL Art in Shawano.
Brad says the support of the racing community when Reed was first diagnosed was the reason he and Lori decided to get more involved with the event.
“The first people who stepped up to help and show support was really the local racing community,” Brad says. “Pretty much the whole wall of his hospital room was covered with racing photos and stuff that people were sending in and drivers were sending in.”
Brad says he and Lori spend 20-30 a week preparing for the event.
“It doesn’t seem like that many hours because for us it’s so fulfilling because we’ve seen what Reed goes through,” Brad says. “We know how important Child Life Services and HEAL is to these kids just to get them to cope both emotionally and mentally, along with the families because they help families too. To see how they benefitted us, knowing that we had a hand in giving them the resources to continue that with other families, that’s the reason why we do it.”
This year’s Racing for a Reason Night at Shawano Speedway is scheduled for Saturday, July 20. Andrea Michonski will once again make and donate a racing quilt made up of t-shirts from local drivers. This was a popular item at last year’s event.
Other items include: a Bo Ryan autographed basketball, an autographed football from the Packers, a NAPA die-cast collection series, a retro Late Model painting and a Chuck Buckbee die-cast, just to name a few. As of late May, about 70 items had been donated.
Thunderhill pays tribute to Soukup
Woody Wodack, promoter of Thunderhill Raceway in Sturgeon Bay is dedicating the entire season at Thunderhill Raceway to cancer awareness.
“The reason I’m doing this is because I wasn’t aware of how cancer was,” Wodack says. “I’m 48 years old and I watched a friend/racer deteriorate so I figured I can touch people and make them more aware.”
The friend Wodack lost was John Soukup, who recently succumbed to cancer. Soukup raced at Thunderhill Raceway in the past, and was a fireman in the community.
Wodack says he will donate the track’s portion of the weekly 50/50 raffle for the entire year to DOOR CANcer, Inc., which is a local entity that distributes money to people who have cancer.
Thunderhill Raceway will also host a John Soukup Memorial Night, Saturday, July 6.
Wodack says the track will also host a Bo Johnson Night, Saturday, July 20. Johnson, a 13-year-old boy from Sister Bay lost his battle with leukemia on Sept. 28, 2012.
IMCA Northern SportMod driver Joey Taycher knows the impact cancer can have on a family. He says a sister, three aunts and a grandma have battled cancer.
“I don’t think people realize how tough it is financially to battle cancer,” Taycher says.
To honor his relatives Taycher added pink graphics to his race car late in the 2012 season. He says he replaced some of the sheet metal on his car with flat black sheet metal, but he didn’t like the way it looked. His solution was to add pink graphics.
He received the pink graphics the night before a special at 141 Speedway in October. He says he was outside in the dark with a flashlight adding the pink graphics to his race car. He went on to win the SportMod feature at that special.
Taycher’s race car once again has pink graphics on it in 2013. He says it’s a way to remind people that when they think their life is tough that they don’t have it so bad because “cancer is very tough.”
He says he also hopes people will view his race car as a “symbol of hope to never give up and keep fighting.”
Breast cancer awareness
Travis “T.J.” Luedke of Plymouth is racing an entirely pink car this year for breast cancer awareness.
“We’re donating all of our winnings through the whole race season to an organization called Pink Party,” Luedke says. “The organization is out of Kaukauna. What they do is help out people who are affected with breast cancer, help paying bills, maybe a getaway from everything, the hectic life of treatments and stuff like that.”
Luedke says the idea came from one of his sponsors. For a certain dollar amount, this sponsor was allowed to pick the color of the race car, as long as it wasn’t green.
“We’re pretty excited, and while doing this, our goal is to be able to raise between $10,000 and $15,000 to be able to give to them through our winnings. Plus we did a brat fry at the beginning of the season. Due to Mother Nature we haven’t had a whole lot of luck with racing weather to get as many shows in as we wanted to run. That gave us a good jump, a good kick start. As of right now we’ve run four nights and we have donated over $3,000.”
Luedke says the support from fans has been huge.
“Every night there are people coming down [to the pits],” he says. “They love the pink car. They love everything about the pink car. It’s been very positive.”
(This article first appeared in the June 2013 issue of Full Throttle Magazine.)