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September 17, 2023

Sherry Pollex, champion of philanthropic efforts in NASCAR, dies at 44

Sherry Pollex

Sherry Pollex, who rallied the NASCAR community with her philanthropic efforts to fight cancer, has died. She was 44.

Pollex’s passing was announced Sunday by her family. The cause was cancer, which she had fought since her initial diagnosis in 2014.

Pollex was instrumental in founding Catwalk for a Cause, a charity fashion gala that brought the NASCAR industry together in the fight against childhood cancer. The event was founded in 2010 and has raised more than $4 million to fund initiatives to combat the disease.

That project launch came four years before her own diagnosis with Stage 3 ovarian cancer at age 35. Her charitable works expanded to fund research to help battle ovarian cancer, a form of the disease for which she said treatment and care protocols had made relatively few advancements in the last 30 years. In 2020, her foundation partnered with Novant Health in Charlotte to open the Sherry Strong Integrative Medicine Oncology Clinic.

Pollex and former partner Martin Truex Jr. were named recipients of the National Motorsports Press Association’s Myers Brothers Award for outstanding contributions to the sport of stock-car racing in 2017. Pollex was also a finalist for the Comcast Community Champion of the Year Award in 2022.

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The 2023 edition of the Catwalk was held just last Wednesday, with Pollex unable to attend. The event’s co-hosts acknowledged Pollex in introductory remarks, lauding her as “an absolute hero” as the crowd gave her a standing ovation.

NASCAR released the following statement: NASCAR is saddened to learn of the passing of Sherry Pollex, whose fight against cancer and determination to help others through the Sherry Strong Foundation was an inspiration to all who knew her. NASCAR and the NASCAR Foundation’s thoughts and prayers are with Sherry’s family and friends.

Sherry Pollex was born in Marshall, Michigan, on May 10, 1979. She later moved with her family to Brighton, Michigan. Both towns were nearly an hour from Michigan International Speedway, where she watched NASCAR races with her family in her youth, sporting a Rusty Wallace T-shirt along with her older sister, Jill.

“The smell of the pines, the lakes — people just don’t know how good it is here,” Pollex said of her home state in a 2015 interview with the Detroit Free Press. She said she grew up as “a hockey kid” who favored the Detroit Red Wings, well before her family’s involvement with racing. When she was first diagnosed with cancer years later, the Red Wings sent her a care package along with a get-well letter.

Pollex’s father, Greg, raced Late Models at dirt tracks in Michigan before branching into team ownership in NASCAR’s national ranks. His ppc Racing operation competed primarily in what is now called the Xfinity Series, claiming the 2000 championship with Jeff Green.

The family moved to Florida during Sherry Pollex’s middle school years, and she later attended Florida State University, where she earned a degree in Sports Marketing. She landed with a marketing firm that had accounts in NASCAR, which strengthened her bond with the sport.

Pollex was introduced to Truex during his climb to prominence in the Xfinity Series, and the two later used their platform for philanthropic works. The driver’s foundation launched in 2007 and focused on assisting children and families affected by pediatric cancer. The couple ended their partnership in January after 18 years together.

Pollex’s own diagnosis came in 2014 after she fell ill that summer. A CT scan revealed advanced Stage 3 ovarian cancer (Stage 4 is the most dire), and on Aug. 15, she underwent an emergency surgery where doctors removed her ovaries, fallopian tubes, spleen, appendix and part of her stomach in a procedure that lasted several hours. Pollex began chemotherapy treatment four weeks later.

Doctors, she said, had given her a 30% chance of survival over the five years that followed. On Jan. 11, 2016, she rang the bell to signal an end to 17 months of chemotherapy, heartening others with her positive outlook through treatment.

“I wake up every day and just have so much gratitude and joy for this life that I’m living, even though I have a chronic illness,” Pollex told Jeff Gluck in 2019. “And it’s so hard. People ask me all the time: ‘I don’t get it. How do you stay so positive and how are you happy all the time when you have Stage 3C ovarian cancer?’ And I wake up every day and just think this life is amazing. If you look around you, there’s so much positivity and there’s so much beauty in this earth. The people who want to make a difference and want to inspire each other — there is a lot of us if you look for us.”

Doctors determined that Pollex’s cancer had returned in September 2021, finding the disease had spread to one of her lungs. Subsequent scans revealed further progression and that her aggressive strain of cancer was especially resistant to treatment.

Her legacy is a powerful, lasting one as a champion of good causes and a resilient ambassador in the fight against the disease.

“I often wonder if that’s my purpose here,” Pollex told The Athletic in 2022. “It’s maybe not what I would have chosen for myself — nobody really wants to be the poster child for any type of cancer — but maybe I’m supposed to go through all this so I can pave the way for other women. On some days, that can be a really hard pill to swallow. But on other days, it’s like, ‘You know, I’ve been given this really important role in this life, and if I’m going to leave a legacy behind and help other people, then I need to do it 100 percent.’ “