HAMPTON, GA - The red-and-blue Mohawk sticks up from Robert Gorley's head like a row of uncut grass on an otherwise well-manicured lawn of blond. His thin frame sports a white muscle shirt that reads "Crew Chief, No. 86." He wanders the Atlanta ...
HAMPTON, GA - The red-and-blue Mohawk sticks up from Robert Gorley's head like a row of uncut grass on an otherwise well-manicured lawn of blond. His thin frame sports a white muscle shirt that reads "Crew Chief, No. 86." He wanders the Atlanta Motor Speedway garage each week at Thursday Thunder, checking out the competition. Just another rebellious teenager with a wrench and an attitude?
Gorley is a 10-year-old boy with congenital heart problems. He had a heart transplant when he was 7 months old, but that heart is now in congestive heart failure. Gorley was offered the possibility of another heart, but he turned it down. He had his chance, he said, and now he wants another little boy to benefit.
"That's just like him; such a sweet boy. We don't know how much time we have left with him," said Gorley's aunt, Lorri-Ann Brogdon, who helps take care of Robert and his brother when their mother is working. "He likes the races, so we bring him as often as we can. We let him do pretty much whatever he wants. He wanted the mohawk, so his mom said OK. You only live once; he should be able to live how he wants."
Robert and his younger brother, 4-year-old Tyler, help their uncle, Bruce Brogdon, who races in the Outlaws division of Thursday Thunder each week. Robert is the "crew chief," and Tyler is the "tire changer," titles that are written on the back of their homemade crew shirts.
"Those job titles don't mean much, but they like them," Lorri-Ann Brogdon said. "Tyler is more like the wrench holder than the tire changer - he'll hold that wrench all day if you ask him to."
Despite his five-year advantage, Robert is just slightly taller than his younger brother, and much thinner. But he is energetic and enthusiastic about helping his uncle at the races. " I wanted to do this because I like racing," Robert Gorley said. "I've been a race fan since I was probably 3 years old, because I got to see my first race in March and it was here (Atlanta Motor Speedway). I want to learn as much as I can about racing. And I get to see stuff that barely anyone else gets to see, like inside the garages and in the pits."
Gorley's view of life is different from most 10-year-olds. He's been through more than most adults, and knows probably more than he should about hospitals, transplants, operations. Still, his memories of these traumatic events are uniquely naïve, and sweet in their simplicity.
"My birthday is March 7, 1991, and my heart birthday is Oct. 11, 1991, so I was only 7 months old when I got my new heart," Gorley said.
"But my heart is actually two years older than I am. It was born in 1989."
There's no telling what the future of that heart will bring, and the way the Gorleys and Brogdons see it, there's no use worrying about it. Until then, celebrate the here and now. You only live once.