Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of four feature stories on this year’s Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award Presented by Nationwide finalists.
For the first time, The NASCAR Foundation’s Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award Presented by Nationwide has a hometown favorite.
Tammy Richardson, one of four finalists announced last week for the seventh annual award, is from Las Vegas. The award is presented during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Awards at Wynn Las Vegas. The award honors NASCAR fans who are also accomplished volunteers working for children’s causes in their communities throughout the United States. It also honors the memory and the philanthropic legacy of the foundation’s late founder, Betty Jane France, who passed away last August.
On Thursday, Nov. 30, the award winner will be announced. The winner will be determined by online voting at NASCAR.com/Award; voting ends on Nov. 29 at 5 p.m. (ET). The NASCAR Foundation donates $100,000 to the charity the winner represents and $25,000 to the other finalists’ charities.
Richardson is representing the Nevada Childhood Cancer Foundation (NCCF), an organization that provides 25 pediatric programs and services to nearly 500 children. One of those programs is “Camp Cartwheel,” an outdoor camp experience designed to help children fighting cancer and other critical diseases. Richardson, a longtime volunteer and committee member at Camp Cartwheel, also operates the Camp Store, providing items and gifts for attendees. Funds received from the Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award would go toward the NCCF’s Emergency Funding Program that covers housing, travel, medical expenses and the cost of camp.
Richardson has imagined what it would be like to walk across the stage in her hometown, as the 2017 award winner.
“It would be amazing … it would be overwhelming but very humbling at the same time … it would be huge,” Richardson says. “Vegas is where I live, it’s where I’m from and it’s where our organization is located.”
Richardson volunteers 11 months annually at Camp Cartwheel, a commitment that has no end in sight. Richardson has special motivation driving that commitment.
The ultimate motivation, really.
Richardson, 52, lost her teenage daughter Stephanie to cancer in 2003. The experience was devastating, acerbated by the type of cancer and Stephanie’s rapid decline after the 2002 diagnosis of an inoperable brain tumor.
Suddenly, there was so little time. But there was still time for Stephanie to leave lasting memories. After her diagnosis she bravely announced her plan to personally meet every child in the state of Nevada who was also battling cancer. Fully aware that her own fight would not be won, she was committed to providing support to others.
Richardson became aware of Camp Cartwheel when her daughter became ill. In the years since her daughter passed away, Richardson has accelerated her volunteerism at the camp, striving to finish Stephanie’s unfinished task of meeting children with cancer throughout Nevada.
When Richardson describes the work being done at Camp Cartwheel, it’s clear she cherishes her involvement. She knows she’s honoring her daughter’s memory in the best way possible.
“A lot of these children at our camps do not get to do regular normal activities outside their home or outside a hospital environment,” Richardson said. “Some of these kids are critical and some of them are terminal. get to help give them the most amazing time I can, to let them be okay for a while. So when they come to our camps, they get to be that normal child for four days.”
Richardson’s NASCAR connection is all about family — and the sport’s longstanding link to the U.S. military. Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s affinity for the military caught her eye — and her heart — some years back. Her husband Jim husband is an Army veteran and her son is currently serving the nation. Along the way, Earnhardt became Richardson’s favorite driver.
“My Dad was a Southern boy and I was raised in Las Vegas so the speedway was sort of right out the back door,” Richardson said. “It’s something I’d always done with my dad and now I do with my spouse. It’s a family thing and it’s a tie to America. And with NASCAR, it’s something where you can escape. You don’t have to worry about the real world.
“Kind of like our camp.”