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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.
©2000 - 2008 Beth Lunkenheimer and Frontstetch.com. Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!
One of the reasons Jeff Gordon is my favorite driver is that he has always been a class act and willing to give time to sick children. The sports world needs more athletes like him.
People may have lots of reasons why they don’t like Jeff Gordon, and I know that most of the drivers do lots of nice things for children and charity in general, so there may be drivers that do as much as Jeff Gordon for charity but no one does more.
I agree with Gordon83 and Bill B. I am very appreciative of Jeff Gordon’s work with sick children. That is something for him, and all of Nascar to be proud of. Nice job Jeff. Keep up the good work!!
YAY to Jeff for taking the time from his busy race weekend to grant this boy his wish. It always warms my heart when drivers and others do this.
I was reading elsewhere that Food Channel’s Barefoot Contessa turned down a kid’s request twice! Said she was too busy. How could anyone be too busy to grant a sick kid their wish? No excuse if Jeff can do it and still go to work.
I tell you I have been having a real crappy day with a co-worker and have been boiling mad all day. Reading this story reminded me just how insignificant my problems truly are. Jeff Gordon is a class act.