Friday, May 05, 2006

'Craftsman for a Cure' ought to be on must-do list

If you live in the Charlotte area, or if you're among the thousands of fans who'll be visiting during race weeks there later this month, mark Tuesday, May 23, on your calendars.That evening, Bobby Hamilton and a few dozen friends will be at the NASCAR SpeedPark at Concord Mills, the massive shopping complex just down the street from Lowe's Motor Speedway.

The occasion will be the "Craftsman for a Cure," a charity event to raise money for the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life and the Victory Junction Gang Camp.Hamilton is at the center of the event after announcing earlier this year that he would step out of the NASCAR Truck Series to begin treatments for cancer found in his neck.

The event runs from 5 to 9 p.m. and there are several ways fans can help.For $75, a fan can get a VIP dinner with one of several drivers who'll be there to help with the event. Tickets to race against drivers on one of the tracks at the SpeedPark are $20 to $40. And tickets for access to autograph sessions with selected drivers are $15 each.Fans can order tickets by calling (866) 227-3264.

Hamilton said this week that it's been a humbling experience to help put this thing together."Victory Junction Gang has been such a huge thing that we have all tried to support whenever we could," Hamilton said. "There have been people who have been a little bit more fortunate to do more for certain things than others. I have always been one of those guys that I just do what I can.

"To be on the flip side of it...has just totally overwhelmed me. To know that I can pick up the phone and I called Jeff Gordon's people and Jimmie Johnson's people. Then I picked up the phone and I called Kasey Kahne. The man is in between practices calling me back, saying 'OK, give me some times. This is what I would like to do. I'll do an hour here, an hour there. I'm going to call you after the next practice.' And he'd run and call me back.

"Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman stepped up right off the bat. I can't even spout off half the names. A ton of our NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series guys have really stepped up as well. Jon Wood called me. The Wood family has been close to me my whole career.You really hate to throw names out there because we have so many participating.

"We have a whole field of drivers almost that could make a whole race. I cherish everything that every one of them has done. And I don't have to tell you how I feel about Ken Schrader and Michael Waltrip who have stepped up. It just goes on and on, and the people just want to keep doing more. You just can't believe what a feeling it is when you are on the other side of it."

Many of the drivers who won't be there have donated uniforms and other memorabilia for a silent auction that will run in conjuncture with the event.

Hamilton says his treatments are going on along well, but Hamilton wouldn't complain if they weren't. He's always been one of the most decent, down-to-earth guys connected to NASCAR, and the way he's dealing with this is just proving that all over again.

"Everybody is going to deal with this at some point in their life," Hamilton said. "It's such a big thing. I guarantee that just about everybody knows somebody or has had a family member go through it. It just makes you think of things different.

"I don't look at the sport that different. I look at human life different. I see people at the hospital. I talk to patients every day. I had the hospital call me and want to give me VIP treatment because they had race fans as patients talking about me.They called my house and said 'We'd like to bring you in the back door. We have a CEO room.' I said, 'I don't want you to touch me. I want to sit right out there with them. Leave me alone. I'll learn a lot. I just want to sit with the rest of the folks.'

"I think I have learned to cherish anybody's life. We're all human beings. We all have a life. Do some of us live them right? Probably not. Do all of us live them right? No. Do all of us live them halfway right? Probably so. There's so many different ways to look at it.

"You know, somebody will get mad on the highway and say, 'You blankety-blank.' That's not me anymore. I tell people all the time. Somebody will call or stop by and say, 'Is there anything we can do? We're praying for you.' And I'll say, 'That's all I need, just keep doing that.' And I'll turn around and tell them 'Don't forget to hug your wife or your kids or your grandkids tonight and tell them that you love them. Make sure you do that every night.' That's just the difference in what you learn going through something like this."