By Mary Lendzion
When Mike DeChicco is in his car, he’s all about the competition in NMCA Quick Fuel Technology Nostalgia Super Stock, and when he’s not in his car, he’s all about the camaraderie in the category.
He likes people, and that’s why he organized his first practice tree race at his home in Ostrander, Ohio, sixteen years ago.
But he also likes to help people who need help, and that’s why he decided that the practice tree race would be held every winter, and that in addition to being fun, it would be a fundraiser for the JEGS Foundation Racing for Cancer Research. It’s a cause that’s close to his heart, as he has family members who have gone, and are going through, cancer, and he was also inspired by a fellow racer who continued to race while fighting cancer.
The practice tree race is called Mr. Aruba’s Winter Nationals as a nod to the nickname DeChicco’s wife, Jane Graebner, gave him when they were on their honeymoon, and the couple sets out food and beverages while warmly welcoming into their home each and every person taking part.
Then, they get going with a Gamblers’ Race, Beer Eliminator, Race for the Wires, which includes a chance to win FireCore ignition wires, and a Chip Foust Memorial Race, in honor of a racer who used to take part before passing away. There are even buy-backs for participants who lose in the first or second round, as well as 50/50 drawings, and it’s all preceded by an invocation by Pastor Paul McCullough and a recording of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
The entry fees and buy-back fees are donations, and DeChicco and Graebner match those donations. As a testament to their commitment and the commitment of participants, the fundraiser, which has grown to approximately 60 participants, went from raising $800 its first year to $16,714 this year, and the total amount raised through the sixteen years is more than $120,000.
DeChicco and Graebner personally deliver the check each year to Jeg Coughlin Jr., a prominent NHRA Pro Stock driver and a force behind the JEGS Foundation Racing for Cancer Research, and sometimes, they’re accompanied by some of the fundraiser participants.
“The people taking part in the practice tree races are very generous, and that makes me emotional,” said DeChicco. “This is a chance to give back, and my wife and I are happy to do it. It means a lot to us.”
(Photo from check presentation courtesy of Mike DeChicco)