A Driver's Reflection about the 2014 Drive-A-Thon
A Lap with Ella by Dan Atilla
"Hey, Dan. Can you do me a favor? Can you bring the Lamborghini to the race track and give rides?"
Um……. Ah…….. Say what??
Okay, a fund raiser for kids with cancer. Bring the car to a track lapping day. Typically, it costs a couple hundred dollars to bring a car to the track to cover expenses. For this event, the track is donating all the entry fees to "Camp Goodtimes", a camp for kids with cancer and their siblings. I'm just to show up, let kids get their pictures taken with the car, and take them for a few laps around the track during the lunch break. Okay, I get it. But first of all, we will have to break race track rule number one:
Race Track Rule #1: Never go on the track with a car you cannot afford to destroy.
There's a reason my "track toy" is a ratty old sports car- It's not worth much. But hey, this is just spirited driving, at far less than race speeds, to give the kids a thrill. No problem. I hope.
When I show up, I am quickly marshalled to park the Lamborghini front and center. As soon as the car is stopped, traffic cones appear around the car to protect its special spot. Though there are plenty of full-blown race cars there, with flamboyant paint, roll cages, and big numbers on the doors, it is clear the Lambo is the center of attention. Lots of pictures in and around the car.
Turns out, this day will be about more than driving quickly. Camp Goodtimes, on the surface, is just what one would expect- Give kids with cancer opportunities for fun experiences that are normally not an option. It is far more than that. One of the psychological effects of cancer at a young age is that you are always treated "differently". From all the medical appointments, meds, special attention, to simply not fitting in with other kids because of weakness or physical differences, the mental toll often lasts a lifetime, even for kids who are completely cured. What Camp Goodtimes offers, is an escape from being different- From being "The Kid with Cancer". While at camp, you get to be, simply, one of the kids. You're not the only one with puffy cheeks. You're not the oddball with clumps of hair missing. You are simply one of the kids. Here is where you get to be normal.
Up until recently, Camp Goodtimes was funded by the American Cancer Society. ACS has decided to transfer more funds to researching a cure, so now the camp needs to raise its own funds. Parents are, of course, hoping for a cure, but are adamant that these camps are absolutely vital, for both the kids, siblings, and giving the parents themselves a break from what is commonly 24-hour care.
Though over two days I gave rides to several kids, one really stands out. To first look at Ella, clumsily using a walker due to her limited mobility, she looks to be about seven years old. She is 15. A cancerous tumor on her brain has stunted her growth and has now taken away her eyesight. Because of the extra time necessary to get her strapped in the car, helmet on, she was to be my first passenger of the day. I was told It's not possible to go too fast for Ella. Though blind, she has an infectious zest for life. She loves speed. Loves roller coasters. Loves motion. For Ella, then, we have to break race track rule number two:
Race Track Rule #2: Drive as smoothly as possible.
Things happen quickly on the race track, but it is imperative to make all driving inputs smoothly and deliberately. Jerking the car around at speed is when it's going to slide off the track and end up in the weeds. But Ella needs to feel acceleration, braking, and turning. As much as possible. Here goes.
When we are cleared by the turn workers to enter the track, the Lambo unleashes over 500 horsepower, and the engine's aggressive growl quickly transforms into an intoxicating howl as we rocket past 100 mph before Turn 1.
Woo! Woooo! Wooooooo!! WOOOOOOOOO!!!!! Ella shrieks with excitement!
A tap on the brakes for Turn 1, through Turn 2, up the hill headed for 3.
Over the top of the hill in Turn 3, the rear tires slip sideways, and we drift the car out of 3, on the way to Turn 4.
Both of Ella's fists are now pumping in the air! Wooooo! WOOOOOOOOO!!!!!
The back portion of the track is full of twists, turns, uphill, and down. Ella never stops her wild antics. As we head down the main straight, Ella's family is watching, cameras out. We scream by, engine at full throttle at 8000 rpm on the way to 150 mph. WOOOOOO!!!!!!
For me, it was just the fun of driving an exotic car at speed in a safe, controlled environment.
But when a mother opens the car door to help their child out, looks at me with tears in her eyes, and says,
"You will never know……"
"You will never know what this means….."
Wow. All we did was give a ride. But what was the true impact?
We will never know.
Dan and Ella at the track