Life in the NASCAR lane

Ewing student meets ‘Junior’

NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., right, smiles with Marietta resident Tristen Cooper, 10, at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus last month.

Photo 
submitted by April Cooper

NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., right, smiles with Marietta resident Tristen Cooper, 10, at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus last month. Photo submitted by April Cooper

Tristen Cooper enjoys everything any other 10-year-old boy would love, including NASCAR. So, things got really exciting for Tristen in April when NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. visited Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus where Tristen, who has autism, was receiving care.

Tristen, a student at Ewing School, was named a Patient Champion for the month of April. Along with meeting Earnhardt, Tristen’s name was also on the passenger door of the Number 88 Nationwide Chevrolet SS for one race.

“It’s amazing how a driver will take the time to give these kids an experience that a lot of kids never get,” said Tristen’s mother, April Cooper, 42, of Marietta. “I am just so grateful that this was an experience Tristen got to have.”

Earnhardt is an American professional stock car racing driver and champion team owner. He is the son of NASCAR Hall of Fame member Dale Earnhardt Sr and has been voted Sprint Cup Series Most Popular Driver 14 times. Earnhardt announced his retirement on April 24 this year but spent the following Thursday at Nationwide Children’s Hospital with the Patient Champions.

According to April, Tristen and Earnhardt shared laughs about some of Tristen’s favorite things and talked about NASCAR when they met. Tristen also received a signed replica car from Earnhardt.

“He spent the day with the kids,” said April. “It’s incredible he does this. It really shows he genuinely cares.”

At 15 months old, life should be fairly simple for a toddler. The days are filled with learning words, learning how to walk, playing, eating and sleeping. But for Tristen, a complicated journey was about to begin.

It started with him undergoing eye surgeries at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Soon after, Tristen was being followed by the Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders. Recently, Tristen has also become a patient of Nationwide Children’s Center for Colorectal and Pelvic Reconstruction, Gastroenterology and Interventional Radiology.

It was during his time there that he got an unexpected reward.

“I shook his hand when I met him,” said Tristen, grinning from ear to ear while talking about meeting the NASCAR driver. “Now I’m really excited for the race in July.”

Tristen and his mother get to go back to Columbus again this month to get their tickets for the July 8 race. This is a special treat for not only Tristen, but the other four children that were Nationwide’s Patient Champions this year. The race is in Kentucky at the Kentucky Motor Speedway near Cincinnati.

The Dale Jr. Foundation started the Driven to Give Gloves campaign in 2014 by featuring four Patient Champions across four different months. Within the program, Earnhardt will wear unique cause-related gloves honoring each Patient Champion’s respective diagnosis and the Patient Champion’s name will also be featured above the passenger door of his car that month.

The race-worn gloves will be auctioned off on eBay following each special month to raise funds for the ground-breaking work done by the doctors and staff at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Tristen’s gloves sold mid-afternoon on Tuesday for $4,850.

Driven to Give Gloves kicked off in April in races at Martinsville, Texas, Bristol and Richmond with Earnhardt Jr. wearing gloves accented in blue to raise awareness and funds for autism.

In June at races in Dover, Pocono, Michigan and Sonoma the gloves will have red accents for Safety Awareness and highlight Patient Champion Ailee Gilliland, who suffered severe facial burns. July’s color will be pink for the Daytona, Kentucky, New Hampshire, Indianapolis and Pocono II races to represent therapeutic recreation for Patient Champion Maddie Delaney. In November, the Texas II, Phoenix II and Homestead-Miami races will feature gloves with gray accents for Diabetes Awareness Month and feature Patient Champion John Roger Curry.

“Kevin Harvick is my favorite driver but Dale was really nice,” said Tristen. “I’m hoping to meet (Harvick) someday.”

Tristen said his favorite part of NASCAR is when the cars come out at the beginning for introduction. In 2015, April took Tristen to his first NASCAR race and both said they are really looking forward to this summer’s race.

“We made Earnhardt good luck signs to take to the race,” said April. “I know Tristen is really excited to go again.”

Tristen said he hopes there aren’t any wrecks where cars hit the walls or spin out.

“I like the wins and victory lane,” said Tristen. “I can’t wait to see all the cars.”

At a glance

¯ The Dale Jr. Foundation continued its successful Driven to Give Gloves campaign in 2017 by featuring its four Patient Champions across four different months.

¯ Within the program, NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. will wear unique cause-related gloves honoring each Patient Champion’s respective diagnosis and the Patient Champion’s name will also be featured above the passenger door of his car that month.

¯ The race-worn gloves will be auctioned off on eBay following each special month to raise funds for work done by the doctors and staff at Nationwide Children’s.

Source: Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

COMMENTS