NASCAR: Six-year-old hospital patient celebrates Chris Buescher’s win

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As part of the NASCAR Nationwide Series’ annual visit to Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, a group of patients from the Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio known as “Patient Champions” are paired up with drivers and teams that give them a special VIP experience during the race weekend.

Additionally, the 10 “Patient Champions” for today’s race were also honored with special paint schemes on their respective team’s car. Those paint schemes are created with input from each patient.

We’re sure that all of them had a great time today at Mid-Ohio, but one in particular may have had the best day of all.

Six-year-old patient Luke Benner was paired up with Nationwide Series rookie Chris Buescher and helped create an orange, black, and white livery for his No. 60 Roush Fenway Racing Ford.

Today, Buescher put that car in Victory Lane, earning his first-ever NNS win – and also making Benner very happy as these post-race Twitter shots show:

On New Year’s Eve 2012, Benner’s parents noticed that his lymph nodes had grown to a large and bulging state on his neck. Eventually, Benner was sent to Nationwide Children’s Hospital, where further analysis revealed that he was suffering from Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.

Benner quickly went on a chemotherapy schedule that would have him, on average, visit NCH every other day for a period of six to eight months with a full treatment term of up to three and a half years. But despite his diagnosis, he continues to enjoy a variety of interests, including swimming, Legos, dolphins, and of course, race cars.

The young boy first met Buescher at NCH a few weeks ago as the latter was in Columbus for pre-race media duties. No doubt that Benner will always be a fan of Buescher after this Saturday afternoon.

We’ll also take this moment to recognize the other nine “Patient Champions” that were honored in today’s race:

  • Avery Neely – Paired with the No. 2 Richard Childress Racing team and driver Brian Scott (finished third)
  • Blaine Snodgrass – Paired with the No. 22 Team Penske team and driver Alex Tagliani (finished fifth)
  • Sean Tibbs – Paired with the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing team and driver Elliott Sadler (finished seventh)
  • Reid Zupanc – Paired with the No. 42 Turner Scott Motorsports team and driver Dylan Kwasniewski (finished eighth)
  • Blake Hames – Paired with the No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing team and driver Trevor Bayne (finished ninth)
  • Sydney Huber – Paired with the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports team and driver Dakoda Armstrong (finished 10th)
  • Dalton Miller – Paired with the No. 16 Roush Fenway Racing team and driver Ryan Reed (finished 12th)
  • Allie Norman – Paired with the No. 62 Richard Childress Racing team and driver Brendan Gaughan (finished 20th)
  • Tarissa Suchecki – Paired with the No. 99 RAB Racing team and driver James Buescher (finished 25th)

NHRA: Steve Torrence’s 2nd Top Fuel title was emotional roller coaster day

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There’s no question Steve Torrence is a proud Texan. When he’s not strapping on his racing helmet, the Kilgore, Texas resident proudly wears a black cowboy hat and shiny boots practically everywhere he goes.

It’s just part of who one of the Lone Star State’s favorite sons is.

Torrence also has a great deal to be proud of after winning his second consecutive Top Fuel championship in Sunday’s NHRA season-ending national event at Pomona, California.

In doing so, he joins seven of the biggest names in drag racing history to win back-to-back titles: Don Garlits, Joe Amato, the late Scott Kalitta, Gary Scelzi, Tony Schumacher, Larry Dixon and Antron Brown.

Torrence followed up last season’s 11 wins – including being the first driver to win all six Countdown to the Championship playoff races – with nine wins in 2019, giving him 36 career wins and 55 final round appearances in his career.

But as he was interviewed shortly after he clinched the championship — even though he lost in the semifinal round of eliminations — instead of being effusive and ecstatic, Torrence was also uncharacteristically somewhat solemn and melancholy at the same time.

After publicly thanking his team – “the best in the business,” as Torrence frequently says – he also quickly paid tribute to a young man from Texas by the name of Brandon Seegers, who was tragically killed in an ATV accident last week (the young man in glasses is pictured in the tweet below).

Torrence wanted the world to know who Brandon was, calling him one of Torrence Racing’s biggest fans. It wasn’t lip service. Brandon – a 15-year-old freshman football player at Carthage (Texas) High School – truly was one of Torrence’s biggest supporters. He’ll be buried Tuesday.

Torrence also paid tribute to Brandon’s parents. The young man’s father has worked 30 years for Capco Contractors Inc., an oil and gas company owned by Torrence’s family. In a sense, because of their close relationship, Brandon and his parents are extended members of the Torrence family.

“This is for the Seegers family, who lost their little boy the Wednesday of last week,” Torrence said. “He was the biggest Capco fan there was. We’re taking the championship trophy home to him. We’re going to give it to all the Capco guys and his family.”

Admit it, when was the last time you heard someone in sports win a championship and then dedicate that effort to a young fan who was tragically killed just a few days earlier in an accident.

But that’s the kind of guy Torrence is, one of the classiest individuals in motorsports. And if you don’t really know who he is, you should, because you might understand why Torrence is who he is.

At the age of 36, Torrence is not just a survivor of the 1,000-foot dragstrips wars from New Hampshire to Seattle to Phoenix to Gainesville and everywhere in-between.

He’s also a survivor of something much more important: Before he was Steve Torrence, two-time NHRA Top Fuel champ, he was Steve Torrence, cancer and heart attack survivor. That kind of thing gives someone a much different perspective than most other individuals.

Torrence knows how fortunate he is to not only be a two-time champion, but more importantly, to be alive to earn and enjoy both of those titles. He came close, really close, to not being here anymore. That’s why Brandon’s death hit Torrence so hard.

He even tried to keep from choking up when he told the crowd about who his young friend Brandon was.

Torrence spent much of the weekend at Pomona thinking about his young fan. It definitely affected Torrence’s mindset and demeanor, especially on Sunday, with the pressure packed championship on the line.

To illustrate how different Torrence acted, he was involved in an incident after the first round that was completely out of character. While he may be one of the most competitive drivers on the NHRA circuit, he’s also normally a very level-headed, calm and cool persona.

Torrence uncharacteristically slapped young opponent and part-time Top Fuel driver Cameron Ferre in the face at the end of the drag strip after they climbed from their race cars following their first round run and exchanged words.

Normally a fan favorite, Torrence was uncharacteristically criticized on social media and was met with a wave of fan boos after the race when he climbed on stage to accept his championship trophy and the big check that came with it. A contrite Torrence eventually issued a public apology to both Ferre and fans, admitting he was wrong. The NHRA is reviewing the incident and still could penalize Torrence.

“Tensions are high,” Torrence told NHRA.com. “There’s a lot of crap going on out there, but there’s still no excuse for me acting that way. I apologize to every fan, all my racing friends and racing rivals. It was a heat-of-the moment reaction on a day when emotions were high, especially in the Capco camp. I talked to Cameron and we’ll just put it behind us and move on.”

Given the championship pressure and what he was enduring emotionally, Sunday may not have been Torrence’s finest moment or best day professionally or personally. But at the same time, he further cemented why he’s on his way to becoming one of the best drivers in Top Fuel history, that he makes mistakes and was man enough to admit when he made one.

He also cares for others and what they go through perhaps more than most because he himself came so close to not being around to enjoy the success he has enjoyed to date – and all the additional success that he’s likely to continue to enjoy for many more years to come.

 

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