PHOENIX – Two of NASCAR’s biggest names were in the Valley recently, advocating for the support of Phoenix Children’s Hospital and the race against childhood cancer.
Kyle Larson, the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series Champion, and NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett, took center stage at the Arizona Biltmore. Phoenix International Raceway president Latasha Causey recognized Larson for making the trip to Arizona, despite competing in Daytona Beach less than 48 hours earlier.
“Obviously, we know that Kyle was in Daytona just a couple of days ago and so for him to make the trek up here to Arizona is important because this just shows what it means to him, what it means to us and that being a choice,” Causey said Tuesday.
While the travel schedule seemed hectic for Larson, he said his visit served as a welcomed break from the oval.
“It’s good, our season is a grind for sure with only one off-weekend,” Larson said. “Getting to do events like this kind of gets your mind off of racing a little bit, is always good to do. I think it’s just good for the mind.”
Larson’s bad performances on the track pale in comparison to what children with cancer face every day, he said. According to the American Childhood Cancer Organization, more than 300,000 children annually are diagnosed with cancer, globally.
The 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion knows about being there for kids battling cancer. He reached out to a 16-year-old who battled a rare bone cancer known as Metastatic Ewing Sarcoma, months before his passing in 2021. These events have altered Larson’s perspective, especially since becoming a father.
“I will say, any time I’ve met children that are sick, they’re always the happiest people I’ve ever met,” Larson said. “They just seem to find joy in life and that definitely also gives you a lot of perspective on life and gives you a different kind of attitude with how you treat each day. So I enjoy getting to meet kids all the time and just trying to help give them some more joy.”
Jarrett is all too familiar with the Valley of the Sun. He won the 1997 DURA LUBE 500 at Phoenix International Raceway and has placed in the top 10 in nine of his races at the track. However, this time he came back and turned his attention toward September’s Childhood Cancer Awareness Month – a cause that hits close to home.
Jarrett lost his uncle to cancer and his father was diagnosed with melanoma. Those events pushed him to contribute to cancer research. One of the earliest ways he supported cancer research was with his No. 88 car. Jarrett took the proceeds from races and incentives and donated the money to the Susan G. Komen Foundation. Everything his team sold – including T-shirts, hats and merchandise – went to support the Komen foundation.
Jarrett mentioned the luxury that the Grand Canyon State has for Phoenix Children’s Hospital.
“It’s only natural as I got here that to realize the focus not every city that you go to has a designated children’s hospital,” Jarrett said. “To see Phoenix have that and all you have to do is meet one or two that impacts your life.”
Jarrett talked about a young kid he met who brought him true joy, defining once again why he goes out of his way to support community events.
“To be here last year and see the young man that we had here that eventually lost his battle, unfortunately, but to see just how upbeat he was going through everything and not even being able to live his life as a child … it makes you want to do as many good things as you possibly can to help that.”
“All of the racers are very interested and very willing to help, especially for good causes,” Causey said. “Arizona is a big market. We have the championship coming up and this is the kickoff, if you will, with our ignition luncheon and our championship that will happen in November.”
“They’re easy to ask when we go out to individuals like Kyle Larson and say, ‘Hey, here’s what we’re doing, here’s what we’re trying to accomplish and giving back.’ He wants to show up and he wants to do that.”
When taking a look at an event of this magnitude and importance, Causey explained how Larson and Jarrett’s appearances will ultimately benefit Phoenix Children’s Hospital and NASCAR in the long run.
“It is just awareness … maybe people aren’t necessarily interested or have had a need to follow Phoenix Children’s Hospital,” Causey said. “Maybe perhaps they are diehard NASCAR fans and they have a need to follow individuals like Dale and Kyle and they see them doing good work like this showing up for the community.”
The Center for Cancer & Blood Disorders at Phoenix Children’s Hospital is the largest in Arizona and serves as an example for other cities in the fight against childhood cancer, Jarrett believes.
“I think it’s realizing the issue and the problems that every city, and every town has their own challenges that you go through … but we’re talking about children here and getting behind this, you know, it only takes a little bit of effort to put forth that could make a huge difference in someone’s life,” Jarrett said. “I think if you just look at that perspective that just a little bit of good can go a long way.
“It’s easier to make things happen that way and get people involved.”