In motorsports, the quest for wins, playoff spots, and championships is the main storyline that get highlighted on a weekly basis. However, there is another focus that is equally important — bettering the lives of others.
Drivers and teams across multiple motorsports series have made a point over the years to give back to their communities or support the less fortunate. Josh Williams brought this to the forefront after his early exit at Atlanta Motor Speedway as members of the NASCAR industry made a point to highlight his work with children’s hospitals and the Ryan Seacrest Foundation.
Williams is just one of the drivers spending their free time working in the community. For example, Ryan Blaney has used his foundation to raise money for fellowships at The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Concussion Clinic, and he partnered with the Alzheimer’s Association to highlight the importance of early detection.
Similarly, Erik Jones launched his own foundation during the 2021 season, which has three pillars. The first is igniting children’s passion for reading, the second is encouraging early cancer detection and care, and the third is promoting animal welfare.
“We started the foundation in 2018 and wanted to focus on what is close to us and what’s affected our family, so we initially got with the Alzheimer’s Association because my grandfather had it,” Blaney said in a statement to Heavy. “It’s a very tough disease, so just because we had a personal tie to it we wanted to help the folks and the families that have been affected by it. Now that’s kind of transformed into overall brain health, working with UPMC on the concussion side of it.
“That stuff is pretty large in our sport at times, so from the helping side of it I’ve been very fortunate over the years to be in a great spot in this sport. I get a lot of notoriety, I guess you could say, and to use that platform to benefit others, I feel like it’s necessary. If you’re fortunate enough to be in a good spot like this, I feel like you should try to help others who aren’t as fortunate. That’s just kind of the way I was always raised and lucky to be able to turn around and hopefully affect some people’s lives in a good way.”
“I agree that I think motorsports has done a lot to give back through drivers, the team owners,” Jones told Heavy ahead of the Richmond weekend. “And it’s neat to see. Through the last, I guess, six or seven years, I’ve done a bit of giving back on my own.
“And two years ago now, we started the Erik Jones Foundation which has been a pretty new venture for me, right? It’s one thing to kind of go in and give back and donate to certain other foundations, but to be the one really trying to raise some serious money, it’s definitely a totally new experience.”
Giving Back Is Not Limited to 1 Category
Blaney’s vintage golf tournament is one example of the ways that drivers raise money to support those in need, as is Jones’ upcoming clay shooting event in North Carolina. Bubba Wallace has held food drives, toy drivers, and golf tournaments while Alex Bowman has supported humane societies across the country.
The list continues with countless other examples, such as Stewart Friesen, who has used his hauler to deliver turkeys up and down the East Coast. Denny Hamlin has raised millions of dollars for cystic fibrosis research while Martin Truex Jr. and Sherry Pollex have raised millions to help women and children battling cancer.
Some drivers raise money through their own foundations while also supporting their peers. Each year, dozens autograph skeleton gloves and donate them for an auction that benefits the Nationwide Children’s Hospital by way of hTe Dale Jr. Foundation.
Antron Brown is a fitting example. The NHRA driver-team owner has a partnership with Fire Department Coffee, which helps raise money to support first responders. He also tries to educate the next generation about possible careers in motorsports with face-to-face discussions. Brown even joined forces with NHRA, Half Scale, and Toyota to help create a GR Supra Jr. Roadster that encourages families to get their kids involved in drag racing.
“I look at all the kids out there and the main thing for me is to give them all like a vision,” Brown said. “And saying, ‘Hey, this is a path you could take in life. Here’s another opportunity that you might not know that’s out there.’ Plain and simple.
“For me. I’ve been on this for a long time since I rode Pro Stock Motorcycles since the start of my career. Where we go to high schools, we go to technical colleges, and we go to junior colleges and colleges and we talk to the students about the opportunity in motorsports and how they can choose to get there.”
The opportunity to give back to those in need is not a new concept in motorsports. NASCAR has its own foundation while drivers and teams have spent decades putting in work with their own foundations or through partnerships.
Regardless of the forum, the members of the motorsports industry feel that they have a responsibility. They want to be a good example, and they want to use their blessings to support others. It even becomes an important part of their weekly schedule during a busy race season.
“Obviously, traveling every weekend and that during the week time is filled up, even sometimes traveling during the week,” Jones added. “So it’s tough, but I think I’ve made a priority to kind of space things out well in advance. And the race team knows that the foundation’s a priority for me and it’s something that I care about and want to put time in. So I just carve those days out in advance.”
“I feel like everyone is different when it comes to what spots they’re in,” Blaney said. “You might not think you’re a role model, but there might be some kid growing up out there who looks up to you so you always have to keep that in the back of your head. There are kids out there or people who look at you and try to mold themselves after you, so I feel like you should be a good person.
“That’s just kind of the way I’ve always approached it and it’s second nature in my head. I don’t really sit around thinking about that stuff. It’s just kind of the way I am. I don’t know if I’d call it an obligation because that word feels like you have to do it. I do it because I want to do it. I want to be a positive person and help people out who aren’t as fortunate as me.”
Motorsports Members Have a Unique Advantage
Giving back to the community is not exclusive to the motorsports world. As Brown pointed out, the NFL has several charitable endeavors, such as its Play 60 campaign that promotes health and wellness in children. The players that make the biggest impact off the field can also earn nominations for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award. MLB, the NBA, and other sports series all have their own ways in supporting the community.
NASCAR, NHRA, and other motorsports series have a unique advantage over other sports series. There are simply more opportunities for fans, sponsors, and special guests to have face-to-face interactions with the teams and drivers, which opens up more opportunities to give back.
“For motorsports, I think the reason why it’s more out there is because the accessibility,” Brown said. “Especially for drag racing, the side that we’re on. Like every ticket that you get in drag racing has a pit pass. Every ticket you have has a special pass to come into our garage area and see the drivers, see the crew, how they work on a car. And with that accessibility, I believe that’s the part that it’s giving back that real hope to like me when I was a kid.”
“It does make a big difference,” Jones added. “Being able to give people those experiences is something that is probably way similar in the motorsports world, you know, and for me, I’ve done a couple of Make-A-Wish events with kids coming out and spending time at the track with me.
“There’s obviously other drivers that do even more with that during the weekends with kids at the track. So that access definitely makes it a bit more special and a bit more simple to go about these weekends. If we were to bring special guests out with us to the racetrack, those things become more straightforward.”
These three drivers are only some examples of how multiple motorsports series focus on giving back to the community. There are countless others, all of whom will continue to drive home the importance of helping others for years to come.