When he was winning races at a historic pace, the seven-time champion would literally sign autographs for hours after a race, helping the sport of stock car racing soar in popularity. The iconic figure and longtime car owner remains popular with autograph seekers, who surrounded The King this weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway hoping to get his signature.
An often-heard complaint is how many of the modern drivers have forgotten what it means to intermingle with the fans.
However, one driver on Saturday showed what it means to give back to others.
David Ragan, driver of the No. 38 Ford for Front Row Motorsports, was sponsored by the Shriners Children’s Hospital for the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race. On Saturday afternoon, he made some of the kids’ visits to the racetrack extra special by taking the time to interact with them and their families.
One example was the Banks family of Greenwood, S.C. Five-year-old Shriners patient Wyatt Banks hung out with the driver and wheeled around Ragan’s pit area in his wheelchair. Ragan, who became a Shriner in 2012, visited Banks at the hospital earlier this week and heard the story of how the boy woke up one morning with his legs paralyzed.
“As a race car driver, we have some things with our job worrying and with some stress,” Ragan said. “At the end of the day, we’re very fortunate and I’m fortunate to have a healthy body that allows me to compete at NASCAR’s top level.
“Meeting kids like Wyatt at the Shriners Hospital, it gives you a fresh perspective on life and you appreciate all the things that God has given us.”
Banks’ mother, Abby, said the day meant a great deal to her family and expressed her appreciation for the opportunity to come to the pits and for the driver and team taking time out of a busy day to spend time with them.
“When you have a child with a disability, it affects the whole family with what they’re able to do and go to,” Abby Banks said. “The brothers and sisters miss out on a lot, so it means so much to have the whole family here. To bring everybody, it’s such an amazing thing for us.
“Wyatt didn’t understand all that was happening until we got here. Then he saw how big the track was, what it’s like, and his eyes just lit up,” she added. “He’s been a bit overwhelmed, but he’s loved every second of it.”
Ragan, a two-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series winner and a winner in the Xfinity Series at BMS, said the Shriners kids provide extra motivation to the team.
“Kids like Wyatt are an encouragement to us and an inspiration to our team,” Ragan said. “To see him be happy, but to also see the challenges he goes through every day, it makes us appreciate the opportunities we have.”
The night race is by no means a normal event for the Front Row team. The team’s owner, Bob Jenkins, lives and owns businesses in Morristown, so for the No. 38 team, it’s arguably the biggest race on the circuit.
“Obviously, Bob’s close ties to the area, it’s definitely a home race for us,” Ragan said. “We work really hard to run the best we can at all the races, but Bristol is more special because there are a lot of guests here, a lot of family. This is one of my favorite tracks and we have some top 10s and top 15s here.
“But we want to give Bob and the kids from the hospital something to cheer for watching us.”