Drivers Hit Home Run for a Good Cause
By: Jeff Wackerlin - @JWackerlin Twitter and Instagram | MRN.com on April 18, 2013 | 11:09 A.M. EST
Drivers from NASCAR and the NHRA faced off in a softball game Wednesday night to raise money for charity. (Photo: Jeff Wackerlin)
KANNAPOLIS, N.C. - Drivers from NASCAR and the NHRA faced off in a softball game Wednesday night to raise money for a good cause at CMC-NorthEast Stadium, the home of the Class A South Atlantic League Kannapolis Intimidators.
Many drivers from the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series will head into this weekend's Dollar General NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway already with a win in NASCAR's backyard as they took a convincing 19-5 victory in seven innings.
But on this night, everyone was a winner as drivers and fans raised money for the Armed Forces Foundation (NASCAR team) and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta (NHRA team).
"From the first phone call all the way to the final pitch, it makes me smile to be able to put an effort together and see the camaraderie among NASCAR and NHRA drivers," Kurt Busch said. "The color, the atmosphere, the fun and the fans made it happen. Funds were raised and that's the important thing. Sprint helped us out as the main sponsor. No matter what happened here, everybody's a winner. But the NASCAR guys have our hats on real low ... we got smoked."
Patricia Driscoll, Busch's girlfriend who also serves as president and executive director of the Armed Forces Foundation, was grateful for the turnout.
"I'm touched that we had so many guys from NASCAR. We have such a tight community here," Driscoll said, "and all the NHRA stars that showed up. You had every big driver here from Antron Brown and Tony Schumacher to Courtney Force. That means a lot. To have three of our wounded guys come out and join our NASCAR team was really cool. It’s exciting to have the community support from everybody and raise money for a good cause."
Driscoll reached out to the Wounded Warrior amputee softball team to get Matias Ferreira, Matt Kinsey and Greg Reynolds to play for NASCAR. Ferreira, a United States Marine machine gunner based out of Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, put the NASCAR team on the scoreboard by blasting a home run.
"It was fun because these guys don't all play baseball or softball," Ferreira said. "For them to take time out of their day and come out here is great."
Ferreira was a teammate to one of his favorite drivers.
"I've always liked Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne, so it was good to have Kasey playing with us," Ferreira said. "We chatted for a little bit and I shared the story of what happened to my guys and me, and what he goes through on a day-to-day basis racing."
Wednesday's game came together with the help of Bob Vandergriff on the NHRA side and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series crew chief Richard "Slugger" Labbe, who helped coach the NASCAR team along with Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip.
"We got outcoached, that's for sure," Labbe said. "Darrell and I got our butts kicked, but it was fun and a good night for charity. There are no losers, but I wish they would take the scoreboard down. That's embarrassing."
Along with Busch, the NASCAR roster included Elliott Sadler, Matt Kenseth, Michael Waltrip, David Ragan and Johanna Long. Waltrip stepped out of his coaching role in the bottom of the fifth inning to take a turn at bat, grounding out to third.
For the NHRA team, Force came into the night only planning to sign autographs and cheer on her teammates. But in the seventh inning, they talked her into stepping into the batter’s box. Once Force made it on base, she was stopped by every NASCAR driver for a photo - including a group shot at third and a final photo with the umpire as she crossed home plate.
"That was a lot of fun but a little embarrassing," Force said about her journey around the bases. "I'm in black pants and boots, and I was not prepared to be playing in this game at all. It was cool to be able to come out and be a part of it."
Prior to the game, all the drivers held an autograph session and the night ended with a concert by country recording artist Darrell Harwood.