CHARLOTTE, N.C. – A great day for golf made for an even greater day to give at the Hendrick Family Foundation’s Learn Live Hope Golf Classic on Monday.
Rick Hendrick, who is the team owner of Hendrick Motorsports and chairman and CEO of Hendrick Automotive Group, has hosted the annual event since 2004. Close to $1.3 million was raised from the event held in Charlotte, North Carolina.
PHOTOS: Scenes from the Learn Live Hope Golf Classic
All four Hendrick Motorsports drivers – Alex Bowman, William Byron, Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson – were there to support the cause and mingled with golfers. Hendrick Motorsports vice chairman and four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon, three-time championship-winning crew chief Ray Evernham and ESPN’s Marty Smith were also on hand with former National Football League defensive back Jason Sehorn serving as the master of ceremonies before the shotgun start to the event.
This year’s Learn Live Hope Golf Classic main beneficiary was Be The Match. Every year, thousands of people are diagnosed with life-threatening blood cancers such as leukemia and lymphoma. Operated by the National Marrow Donor Program, Be The Match is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping every patient get the life-saving transplant they needed. Be The Match manages the most diverse marrow registry in the world and provides ground-breaking research, innovative technologies, patient support and education to help save lives. According to its website, The Be The Match Registry is the world’s largest cell registry with more than 8.5 million individuals. More than 86,000 transplants worldwide have been facilitated by Be The Match since its inception.
The cause is personal for the race team owner as he was diagnosed with leukemia in 1996 and underwent treatment to beat his cancer diagnosis.
"Anytime you get diagnosed with cancer, it is a tough thing to go through with your family," Hendrick told the crowd. "Jeff (Gordon) and the guys at (Hendrick) Motorsports decided let’s put 1-800-MARROW2 in the car on Jeff’s dashboard. Jeff won the DAYTONA 500 and we ran 1-2-3. I think the good Lord was looking after us that day. Usually, they get about 100 calls and we jammed the phone lines."
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Gordon’s win at the 1997 DAYTONA 500 on Feb. 16, 1997, was his first of three victories in the crown jewel race. The 1-2-3 finish with Terry Labonte coming in second and Ricky Craven finishing third was the organization’s first sweep of the top three spots in team history. Evernham was Gordon’s crew chief that day.
"You realize the importance that that day had," Gordon said. "I don’t think any of us had any idea that day was going to happen the way it did or that they were going to get lit up with all these phone calls. Ever since then, I think now everybody realizes the importance of being able to donate your bone marrow and the understanding and awareness of how difficult it is once you get outside your immediate family – how hard it is to find a proper match. We have to get people into the registry.
"Twenty-five years and (1-800-MARROW2) being on the car for many years after that certainly made a huge impact. It is something that we have all been very proud of over the years.”
The heartwarming moment of the day came when golfers saw the power of Be The Match come to life in the form of Leighton, an 11-year-old girl who was diagnosed with Stage 2 lymphoma at the age of five. After treatment at two different points for the cancer, it was in remission. Then, nine months after that, she was diagnosed with Stage 4 lymphoma and it was in her bone marrow. Her family turned to Be The Match to find a bone marrow transplant in 2020. On Monday morning, Leighton got to meet the donor who helped save her life, Katie, at the Learn Live Hope Golf Classic.
"You really see the difference you make in people’s lives and in my life, too," Hendrick told the group of golfers after everyone witnessed Leighton and Katie’s meeting and emotional embrace.
Hendrick Family Foundation recruitment drives are responsible for 24 transplant donors. For more information on Be The Match, click here.