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NASCAR fan beats cancer, gets grand marshal nod

August 14, 2013, Zack Albert, NASCAR.com, NASCAR.com

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Grant Reed, a viral sensation and inspiration to many is set to give command to fire engines at Mid-Ohio's first race

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Hendrick Motorsports has a history of ringing a victory bell after any of its four NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams wins a race the previous weekend. Grant Reed, a 13-year-old from Mansfield, Ohio, recently took part in a similar tradition but with a far greater meaning.

Reed, the cancer patient and Ohio State fan who became a viral sensation for nicknaming his brain tumor “Michigan” for motivation, reached his own personal finish line six weeks ago, completing his chemotherapy treatment at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital. In keeping with the facility’s tradition, Reed took part in the ringing a bell in front of an audience of patients and caregivers. 

Come Saturday, Reed will make more noise as the grand marshal of the Nationwide Children’s Hospital 200 (2:30 p.m. ET, ESPN), giving the command to fire engines for the NASCAR Nationwide Series’ first race at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. He said he’s prepared for the sound of 40 cars rumbling before the start.

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“When I was younger, I had an addiction for monster trucks,” said Reed, who will also ride in the pace car during parade laps and attend the drivers’ meeting. “It’s basically the same if you think about it.”

Troy Reed, his father, playfully corrected him, one of many light moments Wednesday in the “enchanted forest” area of the hospital where former Nationwide champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr., plus current series competitors Trevor Bayne and Chad Hackenbracht greeted patients and their families ahead of Saturday’s event.

For the drivers -- who chatted, signed autographs, posed for pictures and gave away toy cars and stuffed animals -- the chance to talk to Reed and other patients was an eye-opener. 

“We always look to come here to give them something, but just the way they carry themselves will pump you up,” Bayne said. “It’s great to be here and just spend time with these guys.” 

The appearance unofficially kicked off events leading up to the inaugural Nationwide race at Mid-Ohio, but also served as a reminder of the unique sponsorship arrangement with the children’s hospital. The insurance company’s foundation made a $50 million gift to the hospital in 2006; having the hospital’s name as part of the race title only broadens awareness of the facilities' reach.

“It’s really a privilege to have this gift, this race brought to us by Nationwide Insurance,” said Niki Shafer, the vice president of annual giving for Nationwide Children’s Hospital. “They’ve been a decades-long partner of the hospital and they just keep bringing us these wonderful assets to be able to share our story.” 

At least six “patient champions,” including Reed, will attend Saturday’s event and at least 13 cars will carry special emblems or paint schemes representing patients from each driver’s home state. Fittingly, Reed’s image will be carried on the hood of Ohio native Sam Hornish Jr.’s No. 12 Penske Racing Ford.

The Reed family’s connection to Mid-Ohio and NASCAR isn’t new. Troy Reed, a firefighter in Mansfield, worked as part of the safety team at the 2.4-mile road course years ago and has attended races at Bristol Motor Speedway and Chicagoland Speedway among others.

He said he’s anxiously awaiting Saturday’s race, not just for the experience but for the ability to spread the word about the facility that has cared so lovingly for his son.

“We’ve been NASCAR fans for a long time,” Troy Reed said. “It’s very cool. It’s a great opportunity for us to have some fun. He’s spent the last year and half not having fun, so it’s good to see him have fun, but more importantly for us, it’s good because it can bring some awareness for pediatric cancer. ... There’s a lot of kids still fighting that battle that he’s been lucky enough to win.”

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