Cami Starr · Friday May 19, 2006
Even though he is no longer running in Cup, Steve Park still has a large and faithful fan base. Nicknamed "Sparkies", Park’s fans have stuck with him through his trials and tribulations in the Cup Series and followed him to the Craftsman Truck and Busch Series, where he now runs on a part-time basis. Every year, a group of Sparkies get together to meet with Steve, and in recent years they have pooled their resources to give him some sort of present to show their appreciation. This year, though, their gift was their biggest and most selfless yet.
Park’s Busch Series car owner Ted Marsh got involved and the challenge was raised for the fans to donate $1500 to the Victory Junction Gang Camp, the price to cover one child to attend the camp for one week. In exchange, Marsh would put a special decal on the car for Darlington. The Sparkies responded in earnest…these fans don’t do anything halfway. They exceeded the goal and donated a total of $5000 to the VJGC in Park’s name.
The whole idea came earlier this year when Tracy Hibbitts and Susan Catto decided that this year’s present would be something to honor both Steve and one of his favorite charities, the Victory Junction Gang Camp. So with the idea for the challenge in their minds, Hibbitts contacted car owner Ted Marsh, who owns the Connecticut based team that Park runs for in the Busch Series. Marsh was more than willing to help with the project, and said they would run a special decal at Darlington if the goal was met.
"I always support Steve and VJGC in anyway I possibly can," Hibbitts said, "and knowing how much VJGC means to Steve himself there was no other way to go about it. There was no other surprise Steve would have liked better than this one!"
Word was then spread to the other Sparkies over the internet and message boards. In order to keep the secret from Park, fans posted about donating "points" to a secret fair. Within three days, the $1500 was raised and the goal was increased. The goal amount was raised on three occasions before the magical number of $5000 was hit, with donations pouring in from Park fans across the U.S. and Canada all wanting to do something to honor their favorite driver and a good cause.
"I decided to donate to our ‘secret project’ because Steve Park is a great role model in the NASCAR world. And the Victory Junction Gang Camp is a worthy cause," said Sparkie Fan Melissa, who lives in Connecticut not far from Marsh Racing and got a preview of the car before it was loaded for the trip to Darlington. "It got very exciting as the ‘points’ got bigger and bigger."
Finally, after months of preparation it was time to unveil the prize to Park at Darlington. The crew at Marsh Racing had let Park know that something was brewing, but he didn’t know exactly what it was until he made it to the track and saw the decal on both rear quarter panels as the car was going through inspection. He was so impressed with the car that he immediately took a picture of the decal with his camera phone and had it placed on his website along with a special message to his fans.
"A big thanks to all the SPARKIES for pulling together and doing such an awesome job raising funds for Victory Junction Gang Camp. You guys are truly the absolute best. I can’t thank you enough. You guys are amazing."
The presentation with the check followed the drivers meeting at the Whelen hauler. Catto, a Georgia school teacher known as "Mayor Susan" to other Sparkies, made her prepared speech to Park and then the check was unveiled. Park was overwhelmed by his fans’ support for him and a charity he holds dear to his heart. He talked about how the kids that visit the camp have never done anything to anyone and they have to live with these problems and do so gracefully and without knowing any different. Park also mentioned Kyle Petty had told him that he has received more donations in his honor from individuals than any other driver.
With this amazing gift complete, now the work starts all over again for these fans to decide what to do for next year.
"There is no doubt that we will do this same project again another time. Helping Steve help VJGC is the best gift we can give him," said Catto. "He was very passionate when he talked to us about the things that the camp does and how special he thinks it is. He is so moved by the courage and love of the kids who go to camp there. There were some that missed out on the project this year. Next time, maybe we won’t be quite so sneaky in trying to surprise Steve with it so that others can get involved, and we can do more."
For more information about the Victory Junction Gang Camp and how you can donate, visit http://www.victoryjunction.org.
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