LAS VEGAS – Matthew, a sixth-grader, took a long look at the hero card.
Then he glanced up at Martin Truex Jr.’s face and made the connection.
“Wow!” exclaimed Matthew, a pediatric patient at Sunrise Children’s Hospital, as he recognized the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion.
Truex smiled back, happy to provide a moment of pleasure to a stricken child whose every step is accompanied by an IV machine.
A knot of reporters and photographers followed Truex on his visit to the hospital, but the champion’s appearance — during a week set aside to celebrate his accomplishments on the track, culminating in his first series title — had a much deeper meaning to the veteran driver than a mere photo opportunity.
Truex’s girlfriend, Sherry Pollex, has been battling ovarian cancer. And even before Pollex was diagnosed in 2014, she and Truex had been active in children’s causes through the Martin Truex Jr. Foundation. Their “Catwalk for a Cause” fashion show has raised more than $550,000 in the fight against childhood and ovarian cancer.
“It’s definitely an honor to do it,” Truex said of the visit. “For them to ask us to come here, and for NASCAR to schedule it and put it all together … it’s such a grounding process when you go in there. It’s a constant reminder, when you see those kids, of just how lucky we are to do what we do, and not only that, to wake up and be healthy every day.
“It’s just so unfair to see them, and it breaks my heart to see how much pain they’re in and how tired they are. It’s a tough thing to figure out how to talk to them, what to say and try to just maybe cheer them up a little. It’s definitely humbling to come here and maybe help just a little bit.”
We’re here with Martin at @SunriseHosp hanging out with some cool new friends. 😷 👊
— Furniture Row Racing (@FRRacingTeam) November 28, 2017
In the children’s playroom, Truex sat at a small table with four children. In front of them at the center of the table were two Pinewood Derby-style wooden cars decorated by the patients. One car bore the markings “MTJ 78.” The other read simply “Champion.”
Truex signed large hero cards and gave them to the children. Before he left the playroom, Truex and several of the children raced the wooden cars on a long, inclined track.
Through his frequent visits to the Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte, North Carolina, Truex has interacted with many pediatric patients, but the appearances are never routine. Pollex’s battle against cancer makes them even more poignant.
“That’s why we do it at home,” Truex said. “We’re going to Levine’s in a few weeks to give out Christmas presents, to do the same thing — to try to shed a little light and a little happiness for them. I can’t imagine what they’re going through and how they must think and feel.
“It’s just a reminder of how lucky we are. That’s the biggest thing, I think.”
Visits like the “Giving Tuesday” trip to the Sunrise Children’s Hospital are emblematic of the way Truex hopes to represent the sport as its champion.
“I love NASCAR. I love racing,” Truex said. “That’s what I grew up with as a childhood dream of mine. So I’m going to do the best job I can and try to represent the sport well. There are a lot of great champions who have come before me, and hopefully I’ll be able to hold up my end of the deal.
“I’ll try my best. I’m probably a little different than most have been, I would say, but hopefully I’ll bring something to the table that will help the sport.”
If you were to ask the children at Sunrise Hospital, he already has.