An active race driver, well known for his company’s sponsorships in NASCAR and Grand-Am NASCAR, Sonny Whelen announced his retirement from racing to help Michael J. Fox Foundation find a cure for Parkinson’s disease. The owner of the famous police and emergency vehicle light-bar and siren company Whelen Engineering, Whelen raced competitively with Parkinson’s for six years.
Sonny Whelen announced he was ‘hanging up his helmet’ during last weekend’s North American Road Racing Association US GT Championship event at Virginia International Raceway, July 6-8. Diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease six years ago, Whelen is taking up a new challenge of ‘racing for a cure’ having joined the board of the Michael J Fox Foundation. None of Whelen’s motorsport partnerships or sponsorships will be affected.
Whelen Engineering is the ‘Officially Licensed Warning Lights of NASCAR”, sponsor of the Whelen All-American Series, NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour and NARRA’s Whelen US TimeTrial Championship.
He also sponsors the Whelen Engineering Marsh Racing Team owned and run by Teddy Marsh, which competes in both the Grand-Am Rolex Series, with drivers Eric Curran and Boris Said, and the US GT Championship for his son George and, until now, himself.
Whelen spoke of his decision at NARRA’s Saturday night banquet, in front of many of the same peers whom he started his racing career with;
“I’m just concerned that, at some stage, if I was to keep racing and I was in an incident I might not be able to get out of the car as quick as I could in the past,” Whelen said. “I don’t have any data for that, and it’s not something I can really practice. Looking at the data off the cars, I seem to be generally driving as fast as I ever have. That doesn’t seem to be a problem for me, but when I try to put my shirt on in the morning or cut my meal at night it takes a little longer.
“So, I’ve given myself a new challenge, and it’s just like I am with cars– I’m not one to sit at home and polish them. I do as much as I can. I learned how to drive, to race, I started a team. I’m doing the same with Parkinson’s disease,” he continued. “I became involved with the Michael J. Fox Foundation, Now I’m on their board, learning a great deal about it, and helping with their Team Fox fundraising activities. 88% of the money raised gets spent on research.”