During my youth, the only thing that mattered to me were Sundays at the Reading Fairgrounds with my dad, rooting for my favorite dirt modified race car drivers, Toby Tobias, Jimmy Horton, and Kenny Weld, Steve Smith, Bobby Allen and Pancho Carter.
When they tore the Reading Fairgrounds down in 1979, it was if a part of me had died too. Weekends with my dad going to the races would get fewer and farther between. We would explore other racetracks — Nazareth, Flemington, Grandview, Selinsgrove and Williams Grove—until I graduated from high school in 1985 and my dad moved to California.
While home on a break from living in Boston in October 2004, I found myself at Maryland’s Hagerstown Speedway, attending the races for the first time since high school. My uncle Andy and I decided to take in the biggest race in the area, The Hagerstown Speedway Oktoberfest 350. That was also the first time I saw Stevie Smith, the son of my former hero, The Black Bandit, Steve Smith, race a sprint car.
By 2004, Stevie Smith had built up quite a resume and as we talked in the stands about the Reading Fairgrounds’ glory days, the fans around us were quick to bring us up to date on all of the racers. One guy told us how Stevie was going to be racing for some children’s charity in 2005. It was on that cold, blustery day I first heard about The RAACE foundation.
By March 2005, I had moved home, but continued working at the business I had started in Boston, recruiting construction professionals. When I had the chance, I would catch an occasional race at our local track, Grandview Speedway. In the summer of 2006, I joined one of my uncles and worked at his growing racing collectibles business. It was that summer, when I headed to Lincoln Speedway to see a sprint car race with my dad and Uncle Andy, that my life would change forever.
It was the first time that I saw Stevie Smith in the purple and yellow RAACE foundation sprint car. Then, while getting a hot dog, I was introduced to RAACE by a volunteer named Adam Walker. Adam was instrumental not only in bringing me into the fight against child sexual abuse but also in laying the groundwork for the program. His marketing agency worked hand in hand with RAACE Founder Kenneth Smith to get the program up and running.
When I arrived at work the following Monday morning, the first thing I did was visit the RAACE.org website. I read everything the site had to offer. All the while a voice in my head kept saying, “Brad, this is what you can do to help kids. This is what you can do to help make a difference in a child’s life.” I immediately picked up the phone and left a voice mail for someone at RAACE to contact me.
The clocked ticked slowly all morning, but no return phone call. I waited until after lunchtime to place a call to the foundation’s marketing agency. Adam and I talked for probably three hours about everything from sprint car racing to trout fishing, family and, of course, the epidemic of child sexual abuse. Seeing that we shared the same thoughts about how our family businesses could help the cause, Adam assured me he would contact founder Kenneth Smith and set up a meeting.
After meeting Ken, I couldn’t wait to get involved. I had never been particularly philanthropic, but for some reason, I was driven to help this program. I soon got so involved that I no longer felt that I could do much for my uncle’s business, so I quit and joined the foundation full time.
So how is this story about giving thanks, my way? My story is about the incredible gift that our founder Kenneth Smith has given to the world and my unceasing gratitude for the opportunity to help make a difference in a child’s life. I had an amazing childhood filled with love from my many family members, lots of great friends, and many, many adventures. I am thankful that I didn’t just stand by and let this epidemic keep growing, especially after hearing the many stories of abuse and survival over the last eight years. I am also thankful for the most amazing volunteers and supporters who have given freely of themselves and their businesses to support our movement.
I am also thankful for our new programs – the RAACE Fan, the RAACE Hero and the RAACE Superhero. I am thankful for my parents, who have stood by me, and for my wife Betsy, who through her love and understanding makes my world complete. Finally, I am thankful for Kenneth and his divine inspiration, leadership, and desire to win our RAACE. He is truly a Christmas blessing.