Whether on dirt or asphalt, racers compete with all the hearts on track. But when a fellow racer is injured or in need of help off the track, true racers pay it forward with whatever help is needed.
This week’s NASCAR Behind the Scenes looks at a true racing family, the Venturinis, who are paying it forward by organizing a golf tournament to help Kevin Swindell, who was injured in a heat race qualifying for the Knoxville Nationals back in August.
Swindell’s car tangled with others, flipped, and landed hard on its wheels leaving the 26 year old racer with serious spinal cord and back injuries, including the lack of mobility below the waist. Swindell has completed several surgeries and a hospital stay and currently continues his rehabilitation on an outpatient basis in the Frazier Rehab Institute in Louisville, KY.
“We are putting together a fundraising golf tournament to help Kevin,” Billy Venturini said. “We know it is going to be a lengthy process with his rehabilitation. Kevin drove for me and run some races. And there is a friendship there too.”
“So, we just wanted to try to help out a little bit. I went through a spinal cord injury myself back in 2005 without any paralysis. So, I felt like this was my chance to pay it forward and help him out.”
“Kevin is in Louisville right now at a spinal cord rehabilitation center and is now in outpatient,” Venturini continued. “They had to get an apartment for him to live up there. His mother and his girlfriend are there helping to take care of him. He also has a young daughter.”
“So, that’s basically what it is all for. I know he has medical insurance so I don’t know if there will be bills there that are not covered. But I do know that the other expenses in having his family care for him and to live there for four to six months during his rehab. So, that’s what we’re trying to help with, the housing, the missed time from work for the family and to help support his little girl through all this.”
The golf tournament, dubbed the #BulldogStrong Golf Tournament, is a collaborative effort with the Women’s Auxiliary of Motorsports (WAM), a nonprofit charity of NASCAR. Given that affiliation, 100% of the proceeds of the golfing event will go directly to help with Swindell’s recovery expenses.
“We are doing the golf tournament at Rocky River Golf Course, right next to Charlotte Motor Speedway,” Venturini said. “It will be the week of the Charlotte race on October 6th.”
“We did a couple of different sponsorship deals, with a Presenting Sponsor which is Toyota. There were two Gold level sponsors, Curb and Allegiant, and Hoosier did the Silver level. We have hole sponsorships and I think we have sold out on those sponsorships.
“So, we sold all the holes, all the major sponsorship packages, the longest drives and closest to the pins, all to raise money for this deal.”
Not only have the sponsors turned out to pay it forward for Swindell but his fellow racers and those in the industry have done so as well.
“We were planning for 128 golfers, which was the max the golf course said they could host because of the number of golf carts,” Venturini said. “But I have a friend who donated more carts so we can be at 144, which is the max for an 18 hole golf course. So, they will start two four-somes on each hole. We actually have had to close registration and have a waiting list to play golf.”
“I would say that 98% of those involved are in the racing world. There are a handful of different drivers coming out, like Kyle Larson, Erik Jones, Ross Kenseth, Brennan Poole, Justin Boston, and Matt DiBenedetto.”
Venturini also credits his girlfriend for coming up with the gold tournament idea. After that, he said it was an ‘easy sell’ to the racing community to pull it all together.
“I also have to give a ton of credit to my girlfriend,” Venturini said. “We were playing golf right after it happened. I was texting Kevin during that round of golf and I was like ‘Damn, I feel bad about his mother and his girlfriend and his little girl. They are all working so hard to do this deal for him.’
My girlfriend said that we should do something and she was right. So, she suggested a golf tournament and she has helped so much with all of the logistics. I have the ties to the people, so that’s what I handled.”
“When I talked to people, they all said that they wanted to help but just didn’t know how to go about it. So, I just basically give everyone a platform for something they already wanted to do. Because all these people, everyone wanted to help.”
Venturini acknowledged that while there is competition for rides and on the track, Kevin is one of those special racers that everyone rallies around.
“Kevin kind of falls into a rare category, which is that he is a true racer,” Venturini said. “We’ve come from a family of racers and we’ve done this our whole lives. And in all honesty, we’re in that community. There are a lot of racers that you see running that aren’t ‘true’ racers. Those that have grown up in it and have been saturated in it are part of the community. And Kevin is part of that fraternity.”
“So, when I called on all these people, it was a really easy sell to get all these people to come out and do this and give. Racers don’t call on racers unless it is a needed situation.”
And while the golf tournament is all about raising the dollars needed, Venturini also feels that it is a show of support that is much needed as Swindell goes through the long road of recovery.
“I know this is so important to him,” Venturini said. “This support is helping him a ton. He is making good strides and there is a good chance that this will work out favorably for him. But it will be a long road ahead. And we racers have to stick together and keep paying it forward.”
“It was ten years ago when I got hurt. I wasn’t lucky I broke my neck and had a spinal cord injury but I walked out of the hospital. I had six months of rehabilitation but that was nothing.”
“Kevin’s going to have a tougher road than I had. I wasn’t looking to pay it forward but when it happened, I knew that was what I needed to do and what we all needed to do.”
“We’ll be able to give Kevin a nice size check when this is all over.”
For more information on the #BulldogStrong Golf Tournament Benefitting Injured Driver Kevin Swindell, visit www.KevinSwindellGolfTournament.com and @GolfForSwindell on Twitter.