Mario Andretti and Kenneth Acton

ST. PETERSBURG, Florida – As a race car driver or a cultural icon, there’s no question racing legend Mario Andretti means so much to many people across the world. But perhaps none more so than 63-year-old Kenneth Acton.

Acton, of Waterloo, Nebraska, has been fighting stomach and esophagus cancer since December 2016. After initially being declared in remission, Acton again fell ill. This time, five tumors were found in his brain. He was given 90 days to live.

Mario Andretti and Kenneth ActonA racing fan since his dad took him to his first car race at age 6, Acton has had the same seats at the Indianapolis 500 for more than 40 years. He is an avid Andretti fan, especially after the first Indy 500 he attended – Andretti’s thrilling 1969 Indy 500 victory in a back-up car for owner Andy Granatelli. Through all those years, Acton never had the chance to meet his hero. His wife, Joyce, worked to change that.

Joyce Acton contacted with the Dreamweaver Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to fulfilling lifelong dreams for terminally ill seniors. The foundation got in touch with Andretti, who was thrilled to meet with Acton and give him an experience he’d never forget – an Indy Racing Experience two-seater Indy car ride around the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg track. And on a cool Thursday at the racetrack, Acton and Andretti finally shook hands.

“This is one of the most absolutely flattering things that anyone could express,” Andretti said of honoring Acton’s request. “Why me? I feel really special. I want to make sure that he’s very happy, make him smile, something that he’ll remember always. I’m hoping, maybe, this will be the cure for him.”

Acton suited up and was ready to wait his turn, when he was told he’d been moved to the front of the line. As Andretti prepared to take the two-seater on a systems check lap, typically a solo trip, he asked Acton to accompany him to the car. Acton was able to run his hands across the car and watch as Andretti tore off on the first lap.

The anticipation built as the crew worked on the car before it received its first passenger, and then it was time. With Joyce watching on with joy and a few tears, Acton got his ride with Mario Andretti.

“You couldn’t ask for anything more,” Acton said after the experience. “With Mario Andretti, the G-forces, the power of the braking into the corners, the speed coming out of the corners … it was a dream of a lifetime for me. And to ride with Mario. I want to thank Dreamweaver, Mario and INDYCAR.”

Now, Acton has a new wish.

“I’m going to try to make it to the Indy 500,” he said. “I’m going to fight like Mario or A.J. Foyt, I’m not giving up to the last minute. I’m going to fight this cancer. And my goal is to make it to my 42nd Indy 500 at Indianapolis.”

Mario Andretti and Kenneth Acton