Grudge race raises funds for KCH Foundation
MOUNT VERNON — Saturday may have been the start of a new Knox County tradition. The Knox Community Hospital Grudge Race at Pacemaker’s Dragway Park brought out some local celebrities and plenty of fans, including many who were new to racing. The charity event, which was run in between regularly scheduled Saturday racing rounds, benefits the KCH Foundation. The event was successful enough to have organizers talking about bringing it back next year and turning it into an annual event.
“The foundation is raising money for the hospital, but we are also interested in boosting our local economy,” said Lori Wilkes, development coordinator at KCH. “Pacemaker’s is one of the unique aspects of tourism in Knox County that a lot of people don’t know about, so we wanted to help that. Pacemaker’s has a lot of history and we really wanted to get on board with it. I’ve already had people tell me that they want to drive in next year’s race, We’ve already found some things that we would like to change up for next year to enhance the event.”
For many of the drivers, it was a new experience. Nick Clark, executive of the Mount Vernon YMCA, borrowed a Toyota Scion from Pacemaker’s to drive in the race.
“This is my first time,” Clark said. “I have never raced, before. It has been really a positive experience. My racing coach really helped out a lot. It has been a great opportunity to help out the foundation and the community.”
For Columbus radio personality and Mount Vernon native, Joel Riley, it was an opportunity to revisit his old stomping grounds in his 1978 Corvette with a 350 V8 engine.
“This event is really fantastic,” Riley said. “Every community needs good, quality healthcare. Knox Community Hospital gets it done and the foundation helps them. I was more than happy to help them, today. Growing up here, my dad and my brother both raced. Back in the ’70s and ’80s, I spent a lot of Saturday nights watching the guys go. I’ve always had fun, but I’ve only raced one other time.”
Mount Vernon’s historic eighth of a mile has changed quite a bit since Riley lived here.
“It’s impressive.” Riley said. “From what I remember, as a kid, it was pretty bare bones. Now, when you come out here, there are a lot of nice sponsors, great concessions and the people here are fantastic. The staff has done an excellent job, keeping us up to speed on what we need to do. We had coaches that rode in the car with us, so we really got a good education on how to drag race. I have racing in my DNA, but as far as doing it myself, this has really been an education. Pacemaker’s should be around a long time, because they really help out the community.”
The winner of the race was Mount Vernon Nazarene University Athletic Development Coordinator Paul McNeal, who drove to victory in the final head-to-head pairing against Hot Yoga Escape studio manager, Lori McKee. In the end, McKee red-lighted, giving McNeal the victory. Knox County Bar Association treasurer Cindy Cunningham received the most ‘love votes’ from fans, earning her the favorite driver award. In the end, however, the entire community was the real winner. The celebrity racers had weeks to gain donations and sponsorships before race day. There were also opportunities to donate to a favorite driver on the day of the race. It is estimated that the KCH Foundation raised just shy of $30,000 through this event.
“There was a lot of good will, all the way around,” Wilkes said. “There was a lot of community building. We were very pleased with it. In order to enter, the drivers had to raise a minimum of a thousand dollars, each. Some of our drivers participated in a bartending event with the Stein Brewing Company to raise money. This event was a real example of community building.”
One person breathing a sigh of relief is Pacemaker’s owner Rod Zolman, who got the power back on at the track after a March windstorm took down a pair of poles.
“That’s why we haven’t been open, but there has only been one weekend where it hasn’t rained.” Zolman said. “Unfortunately, we had to wait for dry weather to work on the lines. They transferred the lights over (Saturday) morning. It has been a mad scramble for two days. We had to get the well on, so we could get the health department inspection for the concession stand. We had to get the rubber on the track. It was a perfect storm for trouble. If anything was wrong, I might have had to cancel. Now, we have a beautiful, sunny day and a big crowd at the track.”
Wilkes received a tremendous amount of positive feedback, including from Assistant Mount Vernon City prosecutor, Brittany Whitney, who drove in the race. She summed it up perfectly for first time drivers.
“Brittney told me, ‘A life well lived is a life full of stories,’” Wilkes said. “So, she just added a chapter to her life (Saturday), which she probably would never have done, otherwise. It’s really neat to have something to do with that.”