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Rolex 24 Hours: A First Timer’s Perspective

By February 6, 2015December 18th, 2023Awareness, Ways to Give

Since 2011, we have cheered on the teams that support CTF in the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona on television from our home in California. We regularly support Racing4Research events at racetracks within driving distance of home, but 2015 was the first year we were able to juggle work and school schedules to attend Daytona and experience for ourselves what we’d heard about from other NF families and friends who had attended.

The weekend began with a dinner to meet and chat in a relaxed environment. For some like us, it was the first time meeting people we follow through Facebook. For others, it was like an annual family reunion: coming together, year after year, to catch up and see whose child has grown more. It was fun to watch the NF heroes reunite like cousins, possibly even siblings, and talk about what they had done since the last event.

After dinner, each family introduced themselves to the group, sharing a few words about their situations. Most stories were of NF1 diagnosis in young children, and the challenges faced by their NF Heroes as they grew and moved on with their lives. Moving, inspiring, incredible. In our case, my wife Denelle is our NF Champion, diagnosed with NF2 at age 28 and who has learned as an adult to live without hearing and with balance challenges from the removal of tumors from her ears and spinal column. As a result, it was great for us to meet and hear from another family where NF2 is the unwelcome guest in the house – especially when that hero is last year’s CTF Ambassador, Bailey Gribben.

On Saturday, it was off to the track to meet the teams, and walk around the pits before the race. Having jogged after Jill Beck at Laguna Seca and Sonoma, this was a familiar environment for us with one exception: we are usually joined by 4 or 5 other families, not 30-40! The scale of Daytona is incredible, with so many people in a relatively small space. One thing that wasn’t different was the welcome from the teams. Magnus Racing and Park Place Motorsports were gracious hosts, letting us hang out in their pits and having the kids sit in the car that would soon be hurtling around the track. There was the traditional signing of the car, with the Magnus #44 Porsche displaying the names of many NF Heroes and Champions proudly on the rear of the car. We also got a visit from racer, TV host, and all-round good guy Justin Bell, who was greeted like a beloved uncle. For him to sneak away from his Fox Sports commentator duties to visit the families is a testament to the kind of passion that people have for the Children’s Tumor Foundation and those living with NF.

The fan walk, where attendees stroll on pit lane among the cars, included the chance to get on the famous track. We had fun signing the start/finish line, leaving messages of support for the teams and drivers and then just laying around – literally – on the spot where the winner would be decided a little more than 24 hours later.

We had spent the week before Daytona at Walt Disney World, so it was good to be able to relax in the CTF pit row suite, which had an awesome view over the start/finish line. A word of advice to other first-timers: do Disney after Daytona, so that your little ones are fresh for the race and can enjoy all the activities in the Infield. Fortunately, my kids – and wife – are exceptionally tolerant of my racing fixation, and we spent some time hanging out with other families watching the opening session of the race.

Apart from the meet & greet, which has a strict schedule, attendees can come and go as they want. Once the race settled into a routine, we returned to the hotel so the kids could play on the beach and paddle in the Atlantic Ocean. We went back to the track in the evening to check up on our teams, and catch the 10pm fireworks display, before heading back to the hotel for a good nights’ sleep so everyone was refreshed for Sunday morning and the finish of the race.

Sadly, the Park Place car had suffered a terminal mechanical issue and was out by the time we got back to the track. Magnus, however, were still running in spite of dealing with some regular mechanical and extremely irregular opossum issues during the night. Yes, opossum….an incident too gross to discuss here, but very appropriate for the NF credo of “Never Give Up”!

The end of the race was a celebration in the pits with Magnus, followed by goodbyes and “we’ll keep in touch” or “see you on Facebook” conversations as everyone started their respective journeys back home. The mood was upbeat and happy, having bonded over a common circumstance and knowing that the weekend would make it even easier to keep up over social media.

The event was really well organized, and something we’ll treasure for a long time. Meeting so many other families living with NF was fantastic, as was the hospitality and support from the teams. All of the CTF staff who supported the event, along with team principal Karl Thomson and the drivers from Compass360 Racing who stayed around to help out after their Friday race, made the event such a positive experience and we cannot thank them enough for looking after us so well.

And of course, there’s Jill. As Racing4Research program director, Jill Beck has created a fundraising and awareness program which is second to none. The kids adore her, the teams embrace her, and I’m sure I speak for everyone who participates in the R4R events when I say there are not enough hours in the day to say “Thanks” for everything she does to help #EndNF. We love you Jill!