Joey Gase's dream turned into an effective vehicle for an important cause.
The 20-year-old auto racer has merged his passion and skill on the track with a subject dear to his heart.
Gase has used his position as a driver on the NASCAR Nationwide Series to promote organ donation with a tribute to donors and their families on his race car. When he takes the track this weekend at Newton's Iowa Speedway for the DuPont Pioneer 250, the images of two women will adorn the hood of his car sponsored by Donate Life/Iowa Donor Network. Practice begins Friday with the race at 7 p.m. Saturday.
The photos of Gase's mom, Mary Jo, and Jennifer Flockhart, formerly of Mechanicsville, will be on the front of his Go Green Racing No. 79 ride. It has been part of an added effort to provide more exposure for organ donation nationally and locally.
For many of the races, donors are honored with their pictures on the car and family members are invited to the race, allowing them to visit the pits and even get their own pictures with the car.
"It's really cool and special to be able to meet them, knowing someone else who has gone through what our family has gone through," Gase said. "It's really cool to be able to honor them and let them know their loved one hasn't been forgotten."
Mary Jo Gase died after a sudden aneurysm in April 2011 at the age of 44. She was an organ donor, and it had a big influence on her son. He has made appearances at Department of Motor Vehicle offices, showing appreciation for those workers encouraging organ donation, and children's hospitals to visit patients on the wait list for a transplant.
"I've met so many awesome people. It's been a great experience," Gase said. "(Mom) was the one who started all of this. She was such an amazing person. She loved helping people. It's crazy to see how she can still help so many people, even though she is no longer with us."
Gase returns to the track where he experienced one his more emotional moments. Gase, along with younger sister, Ashley, met Jordan Shaw, of Omaha, Neb. Shaw, who was 25 when they met before last August's U.S. Cellular 250, received a kidney from Mary Jo Gase to address disease he battled for 23 years.
“You can’t say thank you enough,” Shaw said during that 2012 meeting. “It gives you a whole new respect for life. You don’t really know how bad you feel until you start feeling better.”
Gase said he is overwhelmed by the response. He receives emails, Facebook messages and fan mail from those on the wait list, their family and the family of donors. Gase welcomes his role and benefits from the weekend events instead of being distract by it.
The plan is to continue the work throughout his career. He hopes it grows, gaining more corporate support in the future.
"I embrace it," Gase said. "It almost keeps me relaxed when I have family members at the track and actually talk to them.
"Either way we have to have a sponsor on board to be able to do this. I feel lucky and fortunate to have a sponsor close to my heart and that means something to me."
Gase will be making his eighth start of the season and fourth Nationwide Series start at Iowa Speedway. This season has had its ups and downs, bouncing between Go Green and Jimmy Means Racing teams. He has suffered some bad luck, getting sent air born and having a car ruined before a race at Bristol (Conn.) Motor Speedway when hit by another driver.
He ran well last August before a broken sway-bar prevented him from running in the race. Gase teamed with Go Green to place 20th in his debut in 2011.
"I've had probably more laps here than anyone," Gase said. "I've been racing here since I was 15."We're bringing the same car back this year. I think we'll have a really good run. Hopefully."