The ALS Association

NASCAR Team Partners with The ALS Association to Raise Awareness, Funding in Fight Against Lou Gehrig’s Disease

By: Dan Gordon
February 26, 2008

For Scott Pfeiffer, 2007 started out like a dream.

The 42-year-old Fort Atkinson, Wisc., resident, was at the center of the sport he loved, serving as the agent for NASCAR driver Derek Thorn. Pfeiffer, a lifelong NASCAR fan who himself ran midget and sprint cars when he was younger, saw his 21-year-old client burst onto the scene in his first season, finishing fifth overall and as runner-up for the Pat Bourdow Memorial Rookie of the Year award in the 2007 ASA Late Model Series Challenge Division.

But in May, the dream took an unexpected turn. Pfeiffer was told by his doctor that the muscle weakness and speech impairment he was experiencing were early signs of a progressive neurodegenerative disease called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Pfeiffer’s initial reaction to the news was one of bewilderment.

“When the doctor said, ‘You have ALS,’ I looked at him and shrugged my shoulders as if to say, ‘What’s that?’” recalls Pfeiffer, who is married with two children, ages 5 and 2. “He said, ‘Motor-neuron disease,’ and I had the same reaction. Then he said, ‘Lou Gehrig’s Disease.’ I knew that wasn’t a good thing, but I still didn’t know anything about it.”
As Pfeiffer was educated about the devastating effects of ALS – which attacks motor neurons in the brain, eventually leaving patients unable to initiate and control muscle movement – the competitive spirit that had always attracted him to NASCAR began to kick in. He decided to fight back against the disease with the help of the community he loves. Pfeiffer sat down and put together a plan for a new team, Racin’ For a Cure, in which Thorn would race in the name of raising awareness and much-needed funding for ALS research.

Twenty-four hours after he sent the proposal to the Wisconsin Chapter of The ALS Association, three of its members were sitting in his living room. For funding, Pfeiffer turned to his friend and fellow NASCAR fan, Shawn Keep, with whom he had previously discussed team ownership. When Keep heard Pfeiffer’s idea, he had a simple response: “Now we have a reason to race.”

In the 2008 NASCAR Camping World Series and the 2008 ASA Late Model Series Challenge Division racing season, which began March 14 with the Rumble in the Hills/North Carolina 200 at the Tri-County Motor Speedway in Hudson, North Carolina, Thorn will be driving cars with The ALS Association logo clearly visible on the hoods.

Racin’ For a Cure has set an ambitious goal: to raise $1 million by the end of the year. All proceeds from donations received and merchandise sold through the Racin’ For a Cure website (www.racinforacure.com) will support The ALS Association research program. To maximize the funds raised, Keep has also generously provided all of the team merchandise at cost through his promotional items company, PromoGiant.

“There is an urgent need for better treatments and ultimately, a cure for this terrible disease,” said Gary A. Leo, president and chief executive officer of The Association. “By drawing attention and raising much-needed research from the large and intensely loyal NASCAR community, Scott Pfeiffer and the Racin’ For a Cure Team are providing an enormous boost in this effort.”

To bring further attention and put a local face on the disease, at every race a patient identified by the local ALS Association chapter will serve as an honorary pit crew member. These patients and their family members will sit in the pit area and be at the center of the action, as well as participating in pre- and post-race interviews.

Indeed, beyond raising money to fight the disease, the Racin’ For a Cure team hopes to build awareness of and support for the effort to cure Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

In NASCAR, which has been called the nation’s largest spectator sport, they could hardly have be a better venue for doing so.

Events are televised nationally on ESPN, ESPN2 and the SPEED channel, and witnessed by crowds in the tens of thousands. Moreover, NASCAR fans are fiercely loyal – a 2006 telephone survey by a media analysis company found that fans consciously seek out branded products they see at NASCAR events 73 percent of the time. With that in mind, more Fortune 500 companies take part in NASCAR as sponsors and advertisers than in any other sport.

“It’s a very receptive audience,” says Keep. “You go to an event and these are the friendliest people you’ll ever meet.”

“To be able to have fun doing something that’s bringing awareness to this disease is just awesome,” adds Chad Wood, a veteran NASCAR racer who signed on to serve as Racin’ For a Cure crew chief.

Thorn started his racing career in go-carts at the age of 8 and worked his way up from there. He hooked up with Pfeiffer by chance – Pfeiffer’s parents and Thorn both lived in the small northern California town of Lakeport. Pfeiffer’s mother told her son about Thorn, and by 2006 the two had forged a successful team, and a close friendship.

“It’s a privilege to be able to not only race, but spread the word and do my part for the fight against ALS,” says Thorn, who lists Pfeiffer alongside his father as his heroes. “I’m racing more for ALS than I am for myself now. When I buckle down and get behind that wheel, I know that every move I make on the track is going to be associated with what we’re doing to represent this cause.”

Pfeiffer has begun to feel the grip of Lou Gehrig’s Disease. It’s hard for him to walk more than short distances. His balance is poor. His strength, breathing and speech are affected. His right hand is almost completely paralyzed. Nonetheless, he never misses a day at the track and has worked tirelessly to promote Racin’ For a Cure.

“Scott has shown he has unlimited strength, patience and determination on the racetrack and off,” says Melanie M. Roach-Bekos, executive director of The ALS Association’s Wisconsin Chapter. “His race now is against time as his ALS condition progresses, and he is fighting it like he would plan a race – gathering the best crew, laying out a plan and then going for it.”

“You’ll never hear him complain,” adds Keep. “He’s so upbeat. If you could bottle up Scott’s heart and energy, it would be worth its weight in gold. You’ve got to love him.”

For his part, Pfeiffer says he has been overwhelmed by the way his friends in the NASCAR community have rallied behind him and his cause. As to his positive outlook, he simply shrugs and says with a smile: “Like we say in racing, you’ve got what you’ve got and you make the best of it.”

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