INDIANAPOLIS – The legacy of Racing For Kids grew a little more when NTT IndyCar Series driver Marcus Ericsson and Harding Steinbrenner Racing co-owner George Steinbrenner IV visited Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital at St. Vincent on Thursday.
Racing For Kids, in its 30th year, has helped to connect more than 35,000 children in 700 children’s hospital visits with members of the racing community, including many markets which the NTT IndyCar Series visits.
Becky Dalton, the fiancée to Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver James Hinchcliffe, accompanied Ericsson and Steinbrenner. She was humbled by the experience.
“It’s amazing,” said Dalton. “They (the children patients) are so inspirational. These visits are, I find, the most rewarding and the most fun. We have a lot of stuff we have to do this month, and I think this is the one we look forward to the most.”
Hinchcliffe was scheduled to attend but has recently been ill so stayed away, but Dalton couldn’t.
“James is definitely disappointed that he missed this one, but I didn’t want to miss it!” she said.
One of the children the group visited was Hattie Brown, 6, whose parents attend the Indianapolis 500 each year.
The guest visitors stopped signed autographs and spoke with Hattie and her parents, Matt and Claire Brown. As time passed, Hattie perked up and a smile grew on her face. Her father said it was meaningful for Hattie to see and visit with members of the INDYCAR world.
“It means a lot to because Hattie knows that we go to the race every year,” Matt Brown said.
“To meet a driver and be able to spend some time this close to them and listen to them have a conversation with your daughter means a lot,” he added. “It is very special. It puts things on a personal level. They are celebrities, but they are also people, too, that have caring thoughts for others outside of (their) world.”
Hattie, who will soon turn 7, smiled when Ericsson handed her a hero card and he said, “I drive the No. 7 car.”
The smiles are what makes the Racing For Kids visits by drivers, owners and others so special, according to Hossain Marandi, president of Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital.
“Having the opportunity to have people come visit them to show them the love,” said Marandi, “show them that they care, show them that the community wants them to get better and supports the children’s hospital to provide that care for them really brightens their day.”
Children often talk about these visits for days after they take place, Marandi shared. Some children, who have repeated hospitalizations, often ask when the next visit is coming.
“I think that it really does make a positive effect on them,” Marandi said. “It allows their current hospitalization to go better but then look forward to it later on when they come back to the hospital.”
Ericsson, a first-year NTT IndyCar Series driver, enjoyed his visit and the chance to put smiles on the children’s faces.
“It’s great to see how happy they are,” Ericsson said. “To have a small chat and give some gifts to them is great. Really happy to do stuff like this.”
Steinbrenner has a personal connection and attraction for making the hospital visits.
“I grew up with a little brother with special needs and a lot of medical issues,” the youngest NTT IndyCar Series owner said. “I spent a lot of my youth in children’s hospitals and my family spent a lot of time there.”
It’s why he was glad to accept the opportunity to visit Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital with Ericsson and Dalton and “put some smiles on some kids faces.”
“I know the great level of community service that the INDYCAR community provides and Racing For Kids has provided for a long time. It’s always refreshing to be involved with something in a sport that has so much passion for giving back to the community that it is so tightly woven into.”
Hattie said she is looking forward to watching the Indianapolis 500 following the visit. Her parents are “absolutely” going to be Ericsson fans. They appreciated the time that Ericsson, Steinbrenner and Dalton gave to their daughter.
“From following racing, we understand how busy their month is,” Matt Brown said. “They (the drivers) are focused on the big prize, and that’s winning the race. For them to take time out of their day away from the track … to spend some time with a child in need says a lot about them.”