When Ryan Hunter-Reay's mother Lydia was diagnosed with colon cancer in July 2008, one of the first things she and her family wanted to do was learn more about the disease and its treatment.
After growing frustrated with the lack of information and the struggle to find dedicated care for the colon cancer that eventually took her life, the No. 28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda driver made it his mission to help others battling the disease.
“The reason for starting Racing For Cancer was that when my mother was diagnosed, we had nowhere to go, there was no plan, it was basically go online and research on Google day after day after day,” Hunter-Reay said.
“The biggest problem was her cancer treatment and the path toward finding the answers was spread all around the medical world like a treasure hunt. The way things were, it was just so totally wrong and backward that I wanted to do something about it.”
Shortly after Lydia Hunter-Reay died in November 2009, her son founded Racing For Cancer, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping the motorsport community come together to help beat cancer.
In six years, Hunter-Reay, his wife Beccy and co-founder Tom Vossman (pictured at right with Hunter-Reay) have raised $4 million to put “on the front lines on the fight against cancer.” A big contributor to Hunter-Reay's efforts is his sponsor AutoNation, which matches every dollar Racing For Cancer raises.
Hunter-Reay hopes the prevention and early detection focus of Racing For Cancer will help others beat the disease that took his mother. According to the American Cancer Society, about 100,000 new cases of colon cancer will be diagnosed in the United States this year and it's expected that about 50,000 Americans will die from the disease.
Many of those patients won't run into the same issues the Hunter-Reay family experienced after Racing For Cancer donated $2.5 million in 2014 to establish a medical facility dedicated to colon cancer treatment and information.
“The Cleveland Clinic Florida Maroone Cancer Center in South Florida is a brand new, world-class, state-of-the-art facility with the latest equipment for diagnosis and treatment, but the biggest thing for me is that it's a one-stop shop,” Hunter-Reay, the 2012 Verizon IndyCar Series champion, said.
“Had my mom been there, her life would have been extended — who knows even potentially she'd still be here. Everything is in one location: every doctor, every specialist, from diagnosis through to surgeries and treatment and remission, it's all in one place.”
The donation resulted in a new building going up at the West Fort Lauderdale, Fla., clinic where the first thing patients see when they walk in is the Lydia Hunter-Reay Lobby, which opened in February 2015.
While the lobby dedicated to his mother is a lovely tribute, she would have been more pleased that her son is helping others deal with the disease, and perhaps give them a chance she never had.
“It's fitting, because a center like that is what she would have wanted,” he said.
“It's very important to give back and make a difference in some way or another and I'm extremely fortunate to be able to have an impact on the fight against cancer while using motorsport as a platform to do that. Everyone has a story about cancer, whether it's their family or friends. It's everywhere.”
To help raise funds for Racing For Cancer, the 2014 Indianapolis 500 champion hosts two or three posh “Yellow Parties” every year where fans drink, dine and rub shoulders with Verizon IndyCar Series drivers and bid on race-worn gear. The Yellow Party prior to the Indianapolis 500 is one of the most-sought after tickets of the year. (Verizon IndyCar Series drivers Conor Daly, Alexander Rossi, Carlos Munoz, Hunter-Reay, JR Hildebrand, Pippa Mann, Sebastien Bourdais and Tony Kanaan -- in the photo at top -- all supported this year's event.)
Although he enjoys the parties, Hunter-Reay's new favorite fundraiser is the “Race to Beat Cancer” at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif. It offers a Skip Barber Racing School experience with instructors Hunter-Reay and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver James Hinchcliffe.
The second annual Race to Beat Cancer at the challenging 11-turn, 2.238-mile is Dec. 1-4. Visit for http://racingforcancer.org/index.php more information.
“It's the trip of a lifetime: Twenty lucky individuals come out and get to learn how to drive formula cars from us,” Hunter-Reay said.
“We are out there on the racetrack with you mixing it up for two days on track, and then golf is optional for another two days at Pebble Beach. And we eat at some of the best places in Monterey. Last year, we had a blast.”