CONCORD, N.C. -- This Sunday, the four Hendrick Motorsports drivers will each have a special moniker riding along with them at Kansas Speedway.
With the help of the Matin Truex Jr. Foundation and the NASCAR Foundation, each teammate will have the name of the cancer hero in place of their own name above the driver-side window as they race in the Round of 8 of the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.
The heroes’ names were submitted as part of an auction with all proceeds benefiting both foundations to help aid those who are battling childhood and ovarian cancer. The four people nominated all have special ties to their respective driver, making the initiative even more personal.
Take a look below to get to know the brave people who will race along with the Hendrick Motorsports drivers at Kansas Speedway. To see the special decals live, tune in Sunday at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN to see the organization’s Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LEs in action.
Kyle Larson will carry the name of his close friend, Greg Fornelli. Larson and Fornelli became acquainted through the inner circles of motor sports, both sharing a passion for dirt racing and golf. Fornelli battled and beat cancer twice, and Larson wanted to honor his dear friend at Fornelli’s hometown track of Kansas Speedway.
“Greg is one of the nicest, most enjoyable, fun-loving guys I've ever met in my life who has done a lot for me for several years,” Larson said. “It means a lot to me to be able to honor a good friend who has beat cancer two different times. I hope we can put on a good showing for him and get into victory lane.”
Cancer survivor Candy Howton’s name will be on board Chase Elliott’s No. 9 Chevrolet for this weekend’s race. Howton, 55, was nominated by her husband Charles “Curley” Howton after she fought Stage 2B lung cancer. When she was diagnosed in January 2019, she pushed valiantly through chemotherapy and made it her goal to see Elliott race at Talladega Superspeedway in April 2019, just four months after her diagnosis. After successfully finishing her treatment, the Howtons made the journey to the track and were able to see Elliott get his fourth win in the NASCAR Cup Series. Her trip to the track was no easy feat since part the treatment required the doctors to remove her right lung to help her win the battle against her disease.
Candy Howton became a fan of Elliott because of his “integrity, respect, passion about NASCAR, family values but, most of all, his support he gives to his foundation for children with cancer,” according to Charles Howton.
“In his ‘DESI9N TO DRIVE’ program you can see it’s not for show, he truly cares and feels for these children who suffer from cancer,” he said. “He gives the hope, love, and joy – something they deserve in their lives.”
William Byron will honor Keith Cooper, who was nominated by his son, Brian Cooper. Keith Cooper passed away from his battle with lung cancer on Aug. 24, 2021.
“My dad was the greatest man I’ve ever known,” Brian Cooper said. “He helped so many and never complained. (He) was the hardest worker I’ve ever met. He worked 36 years for General Motors and was a Jimmie Johnson fan but once he retired, he became a Bryon fan.”
The Coopers both enjoyed watching NASCAR and spent their Sundays together, watching and cheering for Johnson and Byron while creating memories that will serve Brian for the rest of his life.
Alex Bowman will proudly carry the name of crew chief Greg Ives’ aunt, Judy Kontny, from Lakeland, Florida. Her fight with breast cancer started in 2010, just two weeks after losing her husband to cancer. Kontny beat her first fight with the disease and sent her cancer into remission. However, she faced her second battle with cancer a few years ago and has continued to fight since.
Her son, Scott Kontny, nominated her to ride along with Bowman because she has been “fighting since (her diagnosis) and kicking cancer’s butt.” The Kontny’s are proud of Ives and are huge fans of Bowman and the No. 48 team.