As the camera panned across the field throughout the Jeff Byrd 500 at Bristol last weekend, it was easy to see how pathetic the crowd in the grandstands was at a track that used to have a years-long waiting list for a single race ticket. But perhaps the more noteworthy story is the one of how Jeff Gordon helped to make an impact on a young child’s life.
Over the weekend, the four-time champion granted the wish of a young brain cancer patient by the name of Johnathon Ousley. The 14-year-old Kentucky native said his dream weekend would combine a camping trip, fishing trip and a race weekend with his favorite driver, Jeff Gordon.
And that’s just what Johnathon got last weekend at Bristol. Thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation with the help of the Jeff Gordon Children’s Foundation, Bristol Motor Speedway and Pepsi MAX, Johnathon and his family headed to Bristol, Tennessee for a very special weekend.
On Friday, the wish began with a private meet-and-greet with Gordon before a Q&A session later that evening. Johnathon and his parents headed off after what was an undeniably special Friday evening to spend the weekend at a cabin not far from the track. That stop also included a day of fishing on Saturday.
But the fun didn’t stop there. On Sunday, Johnathon and his family headed back to the track to join Gordon for pre-race driver introductions and ride around the track. They then retreated to a private suite to enjoy the Jeff Byrd 500.
Gordon first granted a wish in conjunction with the Make-A-Wish Foundation in 1995 and has fulfilled more than 200 requests, something he’s proud to be a part of.
“It is always inspiring for me to grant a child’s wish through the Make-A-Wish Foundation,” Gordon said. “Johnathon is a special kid and I’m am so happy to be a part of the amazing weekend planned for him.”
The Make-A-Wish Foundation stemmed from one little boy’s dream back in 1980. It all started with a little boy by the name of Christopher James Greicius. The 7-year-old was being treated for leukemia in 1980, and he had always dreamed of becoming a police officer. At the time, Tommy Austin, a U.S. Customs Officer promised young Christopher a helicopter ride.
Not long after, Chris’ health deteriorated, so Austin got in touch with Ron Cox, an Arizona Department of Public Safety officer, to coordinate a day Chris would never forget. The 7-year-old was sworn in as the first honorary DPS patrolman in Arizona and later received a custom-made uniform. Two days after receiving his uniform and earning his wings for motorcycle proficiency, Chris passed away.
Following his passing, DPS spokesman Allan Schmidt made a promise that two officers would attend Chris’ funeral, and those two officers went on to found the Chris Geicius Make-A-Wish Memorial with the help of Chris’ mother Linda Bergendahl-Pauling. The foundation later became known as the Make-A-Wish Foundation and has granted over 200,000 wishes in the 30 years since it was formed.
If you’re interested in helping the Make-A-Wish Foundation, you can donate online, mail in your gift or call 1-866-880-1382 Monday through Friday 7 a.m. – 4 p.m. Arizona Time.
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