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Professional dirt track racer aids charitable effort for kids

| Friday, Aug. 31, 2012, 12:02 a.m.
Jeremy Zufall of Mt. Pleasant Township is aiding local charitable efforts. Photo: Submitted

Professional dirt track auto racer Jeremy Zufall of Mt. Pleasant Township is out to help hospitalized kids get the kind of car that will make them smile.

Kids like the late Jacob Lewis.

During chemotherapy treatments Jacob underwent for malignant brain tumors at Children's Hospital in Pittsburgh, His mother, JoAnn Lewis, knew she wanted to give other children a better way to deal with that type of pain.

“At times, he was just miserable,” said JoAnn Lewis, a resident of Sharon, regarding Jacob, who died in Sept. 7, 1995 at age 6 after several operations and the regimen of cancer treatments. “That whole time, though, all he ever wanted to do was help other kids.”

With that in mind, JoAnn Lewis established the Jacob Lewis Memorial Fund with left over money raised to help support Jacob and his family during his fight with his illness.

Since its inception, the fund has donated thousands of dollars to assist families in need, many of those with children like Jacob who are battling cancer.

Earlier this year, JoAnn Lewis said the fund began its most current mission — to supply every Children's Hospital in the United States with at least one “Children's Dream Racer.”

The Children's Dream Racer, viewable online at childrensdreamracer.com, is a miniature race car built by Mark Smith, 70, of Mooresville, N.C.

The vehicles weigh 100 pounds and are 27 inches wide to fit through hospital doorways.

Each possesses all the trappings of a professional race car, from the steel roll cage and bodywork to the fabric racing seat complete with a safety harness.

The Dream Racer can be equipped with flat panel display, CD/DVD player, Sony Play Station, swivel food tray, cup holder, IV stand, oxygen bottle holder and easy roll casters with a braking mechanism.

“We have, luckily, come up with a way to help these kids,” Smith said.

To date, a Children's Dream Racer has been placed in 26 Children's Hospitals nationwide from Richmond, Va., to Redondo Beach, Calif.

“But there are 756 Children's Hospitals, not counting hospitals that have children's wings, so we have a ways to go,” Smith said.

Especially since each Children's Dream Racer costs $10,000.

Enter Zufall, a professional driver who competes regionally in the FASTRAK Racing Series based in Carnesville, Ga.

In February, Zufall said he learned of the Dream Racer project from a post on Racestud.com by Sara Cipriano, 29, of Hermitage, on behalf of the Jacob Lewis Memorial Fund.

“I got an email from Jeremy saying he was very interested in donating to help pay for the Dream Racer,” Cipriano said.

Zufall said he talked to his primary sponsor, Joy Global Inc., and the company agreed to pay the remaining balance for the Dream Racer.

“The car is wrapped to look like the car I race in the Fastrak series,” Zufall said. “Children receiving care can drive on a track playing a racing game, watch a movie or listen to music.

“It's a unique idea and I can't wait to see reactions from the kids when they get to try it out. Sometimes small things can go a long way. It will all be worth it if it can make one child smile.”

No timetable has been set for the presentation of the Children's Dream Racer to Children's Hospital in Pittsburgh.

“It will be the first hospital north of the Mason-Dixon line to have one,” Zufall said.

For more information on the Children's Dream Racer initiative and the Jacob Lewis Memorial Fund, access the fund's website at jacoblewismemorialfund.org.

A.J. Panian is Trib Total Media staff writer.

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