By Aaron Bearden, Open Wheel Editor
The NHRA season has been over for a month, but earlier this week a few stars of the sport found themselves going in a straight line once again. This time they even brought some Verizon IndyCar Series friends to compete with them.
No one was racing, though. They were bowling – and all for a good cause.
A host of drivers and fans from both tours flocked to the Western Bowl in Indianapolis on Wednesday for “This Is How We Roll,” an annual charity bowl organized by Don Schumacher Racing (DSR). They were there to bowl, raise money and celebrate the guests of honor – the children.
The event benefitted both the Riley Hospital for Children and Riley Children’s Foundation. Numerous Riley kids and their families were present, sharing selfies and bowling lanes with their favorite racers.
Participating and helping raise money at the event were NHRA’s Antron Brown, Richie Crampton, Matt Hagan, Tommy Johnson Jr., Jonnie Lindberg, Cruz Pedregon, Leah Pritchett, and J.R. Todd, as well as an IndyCar quartet of Alexander Rossi, Charlie Kimball, Jack Harvey and Patricio O’Ward.
Some were attending for the first time. Others have been supporting the partnership for more than a decade. Wednesday marked the ninth edition of the bowl, while DSR has been partnered with Riley since 2005.
“This event’s always great,” Johnson said. “The most fun has been seeing it grow every year. It’s such a great cause and foundation. With what they do, you can’t support them enough.
“It’s been great to see this event grow, see other people recognize how great it is and support it. This year has been by far the best. I’ve been doing it from the beginning, and to see it grow to this level is pretty neat.”
Festivities began with an introduction of the participating drivers and Riley kids on a stage set up at the center of the bowling alley. A few families couldn’t make the trip – a sobering reminder of the difficult battle they face each day. But those that could lit up the building with their smiles and courage.
The Riley stars grabbed bowled in unison to open the event. Everyone then walked to to their respective lanes to begin their games. The NHRA and IndyCar drivers bowled beside each other in central lanes, fostering a competitive spirit between the groups.
Some showed their talents outside of racing. Fresh off of his Funny Car championship, Todd topped 200 in his opening game. Johnson and Brown also scored high for the NHRA group, while Harvey surprised to lead the IndyCar quartet with a score of 149. “I don’t really know where that came from,” he joked. “I mean don’t get me wrong, I like to go bowling. But I don’t go as often as my score suggests. I just seem to be having a good day.”
Other drivers struggled, including Hagan and Rossi. The bowlers on team IndyCar each managed to top scores of 100, but O’Ward quipped that he thought the group “should stick to race cars, because I don’t think we’re doing that well.”
“Those IndyCar drivers can’t hang with the straight line boys,” Brown joked.
Drivers ribbed each other over scores, but in the end they weren’t important. What mattered were the smiles on the faces of the Riley families present, and the money raised for them. That fact wasn’t lost on any attending, particularly drivers with children of their own.
“We go out here and see these kids that are sick in this hospital a couple times per year,” Hagan said. “I have four kids of my own – a three-month old, a two-year-old, a nine-year-old and a 12-year-old. You walk out of that hospital, you want to call your wife and talk to your kids. You realize how blessed you really are, and how grateful you should be to have kids that are healthy and growing.
“You think you’re having a bad day, your car’s on fire or something’s happening, you aren’t having a bad day. These kids are real champions. They’re the ones that have to fight every day. It’s tough because a lot of them are so helpless, and you wish you could take the pain from them. But at the end of the day, this is what we can do to give back.”
With wife Kathleen holding daughter Hannah beside him, Kimball echoed Hagan’s thoughts.
“Having just had our first baby seven weeks ago, our pediatrician’s in the outpatient at Riley,” Kimball said. “It’s great to be able to come support their kids in such a fun way. It’s all of our offseason, so all of the drivers are hanging out and relaxed, talking smack and having fun. It’s really cool to catch up with some of these guys and see the kids happy.”
DSR presented Riley with a check for $102,955 earned at an open house earlier in the year, and raised additional funding with an auction and other fundraising at the event. All told, the team has raised more than $600,000 for the Riley Children’s Foundation since 2005.
“It’s incredibly heartwarming,” Laura Buckner, Riley Children’s Foundation senior communications officer, said of DSR’s support. “I’m a Riley mom myself, so to see the community get behind this — not just individual donors, but corporate sponsors like Don Schumacher Racing — is amazing. They could donate their money to anybody, so to donate it to sick and injured kids of Indiana is heartwarming.”
Their latest bowling event complete, DSR and the other motorsports figures shifted their focus to the week’s Performance Racing Industry Trade Show. Riley families resumed their courageous battles, and fans that attended returned to their everyday lives.
But the odds are strong that the group will find themselves bowling for the same cause next December.
Not because they have to. Because they can.
“Anytime you can lend a helping hand like this it’s important to do,” Brown said. “Because that could be my kid. My kids could need treatment like that some day, and we’ll know where to go.
“These kids show you how strong they are, and it inspires you. They are stronger than you could ever believe, and they’re our motivation. It’s awesome to be able to do something to help them out for a day, raise some money and make it less for them and everybody else. They grow, and hopefully one day they can return the favor to the next kids that come up behind them. Then we can give those next kids the support and love they need.”