By MADOLINE MARKHAM
Clint Guthrie didn’t complete 77 laps of the Barber Motorsports track at the Indy Grand Prix in April to win or even just for thrills. He did it for the kids whose handprints lined his race car. Many of those children undergoing cancer treatment at Children’s Hospital, along with their families and former cancer patients, were there cheering him on during the Barber 200.
A small business owner who lives in Inverness, Guthrie’s work with Racin’ 4 Kids is all about raising awareness and support for the UAB Division of Pediatric Hematology and Oncology at Children’s Hospital.
“The highlight of the event was the money raised for the kids—that and the smiles on their faces,” Guthrie said. “It was a lot of fun. “
Through the event, Racin’ 4 Kids raised more than $100, 0000 for Children’s Hospital, including more than $40,000 in auction items. Some people donated $100 for each child’s handprint on the car. Others pledged between $1 and $10 for each lap Guthrie’s team completed with teammate Rick Skelton of Atlanta.
On Friday, 35 kids from the cancer wing rode in the race cars on parade laps around the track. When Guthrie and his team didn’t have enough cars for all kids to have a turn, Grand-Am officials jumped in and invited the rest of the kids into their cars. “They were thrilled,” Guthrie said. “Some said it was the coolest thing they’ve done. A lot of the kids wanted to know how fast they were driving.”
The Tuesday before the race, all the kids currently in the oncology and hematology wings at Children’s Hospital kids placed their handprints on it on Guthrie’s car. The children had earlier painted their prints, which were made into decals for the car.
During the race weekend, many people came up to touch their handprints on the car. “They said they didn’t realize how special it was until they came up and touched them,” Guthrie said. “I think it brought a lot of awareness about the hospital to the race.”
More than 400 people attended a Racin’ 4 Kids fundraising dinner on Friday night. “Gray’s Anatomy” star Patrick Dempsey as well as other Indy and Grand-Am drivers also attended the event, and guests had the opportunity to drive in a simulator of the Barber’s track. Guthrie emphasized that the success of the event wouldn’t have been possible without the sponsorship of Iberia Bank for the dinner and Medical Properties Trust for the car.
The relationship between the race car drivers and patients all started four years ago when Children’s Hospital helped connect Dempsey to visit a cancer patient. Dempsey was in Birmingham visiting Guthrie for a racing practice round at the time. The two had become friends after meeting ten years ago racing go-carts and later attended professional racing school at the same time.
Dempsey ended up visiting 13-year-old cancer patient Addison Sewall’s hospital room with Guthrie. After exchanging cell phone numbers, Dempsey told her to text each week after “Gray’s Anatomy” to tell him what she thought of the show. “There was a new light in her eye after Patrick visited,” Guthrie said. Today Addison is in remission and a soccer player and graduating senior at Mountain Brook High School.
Since that time, Guthrie has had a special relationship with the cancer patients at Children’s. Last April he took 39 kids from the hospital to watch the Indy Races at Barber. George Barber took notice and asked Guthrie to continue bringing the kids each year. This year, Guthrie expanded on the event by racing and raising funds for the hospital.
Although he has been driving for 10 years, this was Guthrie’s first race since donating a kidney to his father three years ago. He drove a No. 24 V-Pack Motorsport BMW 330 with Rick Skelton of Atlanta.
Guthrie’s sponsors have already asked to participate again next year. Dempsey has committed as well and is looking to also include another children’s hospital in the event.
For more information on Racin’ 4 Kids and how to donate to Children’s Hospital, visit www.racin4kids.org.