Alton, Va. - Who would think anyone or anything could steal the spotlight from a gathering of living legends like race car driver and builder Carroll Shelby, former Shelby Cobra drivers Bob Bondurant and Bob Olthoff, and automotive writers David E.
Alton, Va. - Who would think anyone or anything could steal the spotlight from a gathering of living legends like race car driver and builder Carroll Shelby, former Shelby Cobra drivers Bob Bondurant and Bob Olthoff, and automotive writers David E. Davis and Chris Economaki, all together for a golden weekend at the scenic and pastoral Virginia International Raceway resort? It wasn't the cars either even though a mind-blowing assortment of rare and seldom seen cars were on hand for VIR's Homecoming 2001 Weekend.
Carroll Shelby, who won the first race ever held at the road course in 1957, was back at VIR for the first time in 44 years, this time as Grand Marshal. And yes, the cars were incredible, from the original Shelby Cobras to the new Shelby Series One, from classic Trans-Am series Camaros and Mustangs doing battle just like they did in the late `60s to the Porsches and Alfa-Romeos that battled on the same circuits in the under 2 liter class. With everything from a stunning polished aluminum Lotus race car from the 1950's to a brutal blood red Ferrari from the 1990's, there was an over abundance of eye candy and aural heaven for those who enjoy high performance automobiles.
But neither the cars or the gathering of automotive luminaries got more attention than the need for Organ Donors and the impact Transplants can have on recipients and their families. Due in large part to the efforts of Carroll Shelby himself, and with the support of the VIR management, those issues were seldom far from the minds of the 200 participants and almost 3,000 spectators at the weekend long gathering.
Everyone entering the property was given an Organ Donor Card and a table was set up by the National Transplant Assistance Fund to encourage those who hadn't already signed one to do so. All 118 of the people who signed new donor cards or who demonstrated their Organ Donor status by means of their Driver's License, were registered in a drawing for 2 tickets to a reception and dinner, which netted over $10,000 for the Carroll Shelby Children's Foundation.
Saturday morning, after accepting an impromptu invitation to appear live on the call-in radio show "Talking About Cars", Mr. Shelby explained that he had made a promise "to the big guy upstairs" while in the hospital waiting for a donor heart to become available, that if he received a heart, he would dedicate the rest of his live to helping children who otherwise couldn't afford a transplant. He was visibly moved as he explained the impetus for that promise, when he told how two young boys, in beds on either side of him who were also waiting for donor hearts, died because none were available.
His sincerity in keeping that covenant was obvious in his actions and his words throughout the weekend. For instance, Mr. Shelby, as is his custom, did not accept any appearance money for serving as Grand Marshal for the weekend event, which was billed as Homecoming 2001 not just because of his presence, but due to the return of a number of people who had raced and worked at VIR in it's original years, from 1957 to 1974. His only `selfish' request was that the Saturday evening program be a fund raising event for the foundation he establised as part of that promise to do all he could to help those in need of an organ transplant.
While the dinner was a `roast' of Mr. Shelby by those who have worked with, written about, and driven for him over his storied carreer, when he had a chance to respond, Mr. Shelby gave an eloquent testimony to the need for, and value of, Organ Donors. Reminding those in attendance that he was the recipient of a heart transplant 11 years ago that very weekend, he passed his famous black hat around, to see it returned spilling over with cash contributions, on top of the $125 each person had already paid to attend the reception and dinner. Earlier in the evening, autographed posters and prints of his famous Shelby Cobra racers were auctioned off to an enthusiastic crowd.
And while he could never leave his trailer without drawing a crowd of fans, Sunday afternoon Mr. Shelby took the time to visit privately with Eddie and Shelby Hatcher of nearby Scottsburg, Virginia. The Hatcher's volunteered their time to work both Saturday and Sunday at the NTAF tent, where they shared their personal perspective on organ donation - and Saturday, when Mr. Shelby found out what their experience was, he told his manager Donn Gurney that he wanted to talk with them.
The Hatcher's lost their son Kevin, 19 years old at the time, two years ago in a single car accident. The week before, he had told his family that he would want his organs donated if anything ever were to happen to him, and as a result, when he was declared brain-dead, his parents made sure his heart and kidneys were made available. Since then, they have met the recipients and their families and found comfort in knowing what their son's forethought, and their own decision, has meant to those families.
And while many people of less sincerity would have made a photo opportunity and a PR event of a meeting with such a courageous couple, Mr. Shelby took almost 20 minutes to really talk with the Hatchers, looking through photo albums of their son and the families who benefited from his organ transplants. It was obvious when he finally had to leave, that it was only because of the press of fans who had noticed his presence and were crowding the area hoping for an autograph or a word with the man they consider their hero. Little did those in the crowd realize that Mr. Shelby had been talking all along with the kind of people who are his heroes.
National Transplant Assistance Fund
Suite230 3475 West Chester Pike Newtown Square, PA 19073
Phone (610) 353-9684 Fax (610)353-1616
On the web at www.transplantfund.org E mail: NTAF@transplantfund.org