It was a beautiful day for a race…in a dark room on top of Columbus, Ohio’s Nationwide Children’s Hospital.
The public relations group at Mid Ohio Sports Car Course put together a Pinewood Derby event to raise awareness for the hospital and the inaugural NASCAR Nationwide Series race on August 17th, the Nationwide Children’s Hospital 200. Twenty heat races pinned twelve lucky kids against Richard Childress Racing drivers Austin Dillon and Brian Scott.
“My favorite charity work has to be when we work with children,” Scott told me Tuesday afternoon. “It makes you never want to complain about the small things.”
Dillon added, “I think the coolest thing is seeing [the kids] smile…they want to go fast.”
Fast they went. Wooden cars were provided to the kids, and the Nationwide Series drivers helped them decorate their new vehicles with stickers. Two gracious Boy Scouts helped place the cars on the top of the track’s hump. When the four cars were set, a switch was flipped, and it was always close as the toys used momentum to jet off the hill and to the checkered.
A rivalry between the two RCR drivers brewed before the event ever began; making their derby cars back at the shop, there was pressure to one-up each other. Unfortunately for Scott, his no. 2 wasn’t put together with the ‘hilly’ track in mind.
“I put all the weight in the back…I wish I could get in a time machine and go back and rebuild my car better.” He also went on to praise the fun, laidback atmosphere. “It’s fun when you can do any event like this with children. You get so much enjoyment and so much from it…at least for myself, it makes me enjoy these little things. It’s really good to get away from the grind.”
‘Hilly’ has also been a theme for this season, which has been his first with RCR. Sitting eighth in the point standings, the growing pains caused a slight slump, but the team is battling back. “Our cars have been fast…I think our biggest problem is on pit road, but not necessarily pit stops. We need to make better adjustments throughout the race.”
His teammate’s description of his own season was similar, summing it up in three words: speed, luck, and heartache. Dillon, who tops the standings with a fourteen-point lead, is still riding the high he gained after winning at Eldora Speedway two weeks ago in the NCWTS. That winning Truck will be making its way into the NASCAR Hall of Fame next week, which is “very cool” to the driver.
“It was really keyed up to my career, I feel like. You know…I wanted to make sure the fans enjoyed it because I love dirt racing. I think so many fans enjoyed it that you’ll see it for many years to come.”
When the conversation turned to championship contenders, however, Dillon was less confident. “There are so many good [opponents] out there this year…all the guys with Cup experience are tough, with Elliott Sadler, Regan Smith, and Brian Vickers…Sam Hornish Jr., too…hopefully we can hold them off.”
Both drivers are excited to get to Mid Ohio next weekend, yet apprehensive of what the new stop will throw at them. Track president Craig Rust shares the same feelings, acknowledging the Michigan Cup race that is three hours north.
“We don’t know what that impact that might have, but we’re excited to find out.”
With multiple Nationwide drivers donating spots on their cars to carry pictures of the hospital’s patients and the Pinewood Derby, a lot of buzz has been radiating from Mid Ohio Sports Car Course and their first NASCAR date.
As the kids watched their cars go fast, the smiles never waned. It’s no surprise that the track and the hospital are doing all they can to make this about two crucial elements: racing and the children.