Yesterday was the 2nd annual DW ProAM Karting Challenge benefiting the Sue Wheldon Fund and the Alzheimer’s Association. Alzheimer’s Disease is something that has affected our family tremendously, as my Grandmother was diagnosed several years ago. When I told my Mom about the event, she immediately said she and my Step-Dad Steve would love to go, to help support such an awesome cause. While I normally write about other families that we meet at IndyCar races and related events, this blog post will be about my own IndyCar Mom, Debi and our family experience at the DW Pro Am event.
Let me start by saying this, My Mom is the reason that I grew up to be an IndyCar fan, and without her 45+ year love of the sport (and the Andretti’s), I certainly wouldn’t be here typing this, and doing IndyCarMom today with such passion and determination. Obviously, had I not grown up as a fan, my son Gage wouldn’t be growing up with IndyCar either, and I cant imagine that life at all! That being said, my Mom has never attended an IndyCar race in person, not even the 500. She’s very much an introvert, and the crowds are just too much for her. Completely understandable, as sometimes the crowds are overwhelming for me, and I do this all the time! So, having never attended a race meant that she’s never had the chance to meet any of her favorite Drivers through the years, Mario, Al, Little Al, and now Scott Dixon and Marco Andretti. One of the things on my bucket list is to make all these things happen for her. What better way to start than at the DW Pro Am, where I knew she stood a good chance of meeting her current favorites, as well as some other friends and Drivers in the series.
As soon as we arrived and purchased our DW ProAm memorial shirts and pit passes, we headed over to the garage area, and my Mom seemed to instantly become a giddy teenager. She squealed in my ear “omg Scott Dixon is RIGHT THERE!” Quickly followed with “EEE There’s Marco!” I giggled knowing how excited she was. Now, any race weekend that I attend, I try to find Scott, and send my Mom a picture of me or Gage (if he is with me) with him, just to make her happy, and I’ve always told him this when I ask him. He has always very kindly obliged, without seeming annoyed or irritated. It’s one of the few total fan things that I still do.
When he had finished talking to a teammate about his kart, I asked Scott if he would please take a picture with my Mom, and he smiled and said, “of course.” My Mom’s jaw dropped and I truly think she was start-struck for a moment. He said to her, “I’m sorry I probably stink.” to which my Mom grinned at him and said “I don’t care!” He was so kind, and seeing that genuine, giddy smile on her face just melted my heart. Our family has had to go through a lot the past several years, first my Grandma’s stroke, then the daily battle with her Alzheimers Dementia, and then 2 years ago my Grandpa was diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer. As many of you know, he passed away at the end of June. She has been so incredibly stressed out, especially the last 6 moths, and I hadn’t seen her smile like that in years. Scott probably doesn’t realize, but in those brief few moments, she was stress free, and truly happy for the first time in at least 5 years. Thank you Scott…that meant the world to me to see her like that.
I then saw Marco Andretti, and explained to him quickly how my Mom has been a die-hard Andretti fan for 45+ years, and that meeting him would make her day complete. He smiled as well, and posed for a picture with her. She turned to me immediately afterwards, shaking and said “Oh my God, I just met an Andretti, AN ANDRETTI!” and placed my hand over her chest to feel her racing heart. I laughed, here was my 55 year old Mom, totally having a fan-girl moment over meeting 2 of her favorite Drivers. It was like she was transported back to a teenager for just the blink of an eye. She laughed and said that if I ever introduced her to Mario Andretti that she would need CPR. Lucky for her, I am a professional haha!
She laughed as Sebastian Saavedra joked with me about us not being hair twins any longer, and watched as Tony Kanaan recognized Gage, grinned and gave him an affectionate hair fluffle in passing. She saw us talking to James Hinchcliffe, Holly Wheldon and several others, and told me later that she was so proud of me, that she would never have the nerve to even speak to these people in the first place, let alone joke and ask them for pictures or autographs. She was amazed at how Gage was as well, that this was seemingly just a normal day at the track for him, and these people were his friends too. She was able to see me in my element, doing what makes me the happiest. That meant the world to me as well, to share something so special with her, knowing that she was the true reason behind it all.
My Mom and Jen wanted to hit the autograph line (my Mom saying she wanted to do things like a real fan and not ask me for any favors.) They stood for 2 hours waiting and talking, while Gage and I stayed over by the pits and garages just taking pics and talking to our friends and IndyCar folks. Gage was frustrated that he couldn’t hop in a kart and race with Tony and James, and as several friends saw, was excellent at getting that point across to me. Rarely do I get frustrated with him, Saturday was one of those days, as I was running on zero sleep, and had been under a lot of stress. He was mumbly and grumbly and later admitted to doing everything he could to irritate me..Kids haha.
He was so happy when TK saw him and fluffled his hair, and was even more excited when he heard Pippa was there. He suddenly changed his attitude and grabbed me by the hand, practically running back over to the garages to find her. I guess it has been a few months since we’ve been to an IndyCar race or event, because she commented on how tall and grown up he looked. Holly Wheldon had mentioned earlier that “this can’t be the same kid from St. Pete!” I guess I hadn’t realized how tall he’d gotten since May! Pippa wished him a Happy Birthday, and asked him for a hug..I was surprised he hadn’t just run up and attack hugged her like he has always done in the past…sigh..guess he’s growing up! I snapped this pic of them, and it was one of my favorites of the day.
After he saw Pippa he wanted to go find my Mom, StepDad and Jen so we went out front to stand with them in the incredibly long autograph line. My Mom was sad that she had missed meeting Pippa yet again, saying that she and Jen saw her, but didn’t want to yell out her name in the crowd, lest be she immediately surrounded. That and she is totally not the type to yell out to someone she has never met. As many events and things that Pippa and I have done together, my mom still has not met her! Add Pippa to the list I have for my Mom with Mario and Tony Stewart.
My Mom and Jen just made the cutoff in the autograph line, as things had already been delayed. Gage and I were just accompanying she and Jen through the line, so I introduced her as best as I could, and it was great to see TK smile as I explained that she was the reason for everything I and Gage do, my Mom was flattered that he asked us how we’d been. We chatted with Conor Daly for a few minutes, he’s definitely one of my favorite faces and people to see in the IndyCar Paddocks, and we really hope we get to see a lot more of him in IndyCar in 2015 and beyond.
My Mom saw little 5 year old Sebastian Wheldon signing autographs with the big boys, and all of us teared up a little bit. He was so sweet, and such an adorable, professional little gentleman. There is no doubt that his Daddy, Dan is smiling down on him, Oliver and Susie every day, proud of his family and what they are doing in his memory, and in his honor. I can’t wait to see Sebastian racing an IndyCar one day, it’s bound to happen, and as comfortable as he was in his little Go-Kart, that day will come sooner than later I am sure.
At that point in the day, what little energy I had was depleted, and I was starting to feel a little ill and sleep-drunk, so we decided to take off for home as the race was starting, We knew Sebastian was going to pace the field, and as we drove past the New Castle Motorsports Park on our way out, we saw him, wearing his Daddy’s helmet at the front of the pack, instant goosebumps, and I cried. Good tears of course, as this was an amazing thing to see, at an event in his Dad’s memory. Nothing could have been better.
Our day came to a close, my Mom and Jen still wearing smiles from replaying the day’s events in their minds. My stepdad had a blast too, laughing about an encounter with Scott Dixon apologizing to him for running into him, and my StepDad saying “I guess I’ll forgive you this time.” It was a wonderful day, and I could not have been happier for MY IndyCarMom finally getting her own experiences. We were glad to attend and donate to such an awesome event, and I made a point to tell Holly how much it meant to us to be able to come and support Dan’s memory, and the Alzheimers Association, talking briefly with each other about our families struggles with the awful disease.
Thank you to Susie and Holly Wheldon for putting on such an incredible event. We’ll be back next year, and for many years to come.