Sadly, cancer has affected nearly everyone in one way or another, and I am no exception. I lost my grandfather to cancer before I had the opportunity to meet him. Two of my aunts have recently fought breast cancer. More recently however, a very close friend of mine, role model in my life and valued member of our race team, lost her battle with cancer. Brenda McKinlay was like a mother to me when I was young at the race track. As I grew up and started Admiraal Racing with my father and made racing a full-time commitment, Brenda quickly became incredibly valuable to our team as a support member and organizer. She was also the mother of driver Samantha McKinlay who is our primary driver in the IHRA Drag Racing circuit and is also a cancer survivor herself. Towards the end of Brenda’s fight with lung cancer, I spent every day and night at the Cross Cancer Institute with Brenda and her daughter Sam. I was able to witness first-hand all of the amazing programs for patients and their families at the Cross Cancer Institute supported by the Alberta Cancer Foundation.
I can recall one day specifically, June 19th, 2014 — a day I will always remember as it was the day that Brenda passed away. That afternoon, Sam and I got to visit with TSN’s Bryan Mudryk and Team Jacobs, Olympic gold medal curling winners. We got to hold the gold medals and shake hands with these Canadian legends. It was the only thing I can recall smiling about that day and I am ever thankful for that opportunity and special visit. The Alberta Cancer Foundation did more for us in those few weeks than I will ever fully realize, but when I got home that night - for the first night in weeks - I knew that I wanted to do something to help.
We wanted to find a way to honor Brenda and do as she would have wanted us to, so I knew there was only one thing we could do, and fortunately it was one of the few things I know… racing! Sam and I quickly began discussing with the Alberta Cancer Foundation how we could honor all cancer patients and their families. We had races coming up in just a few weeks and knew that it would require approval and cooperation from many parties including our corporate partners, NASCAR, media outlets and other race teams. DJ Kennington Racing was immediately on board and offered to help us add an additional race to the schedule closer to those people that we wanted to honor. This led us to racing the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series event at Edmonton International Raceway on July 11. Leading up to the event, we were blessed with the opportunity to bring the actual race car that I drove at the Edmonton race (designed with the Alberta Cancer Foundation colors and logos) to the Cross Cancer Institute and let patients, families and staff have a look at the car and get their picture taken with the car and the team. We were also able to have them all sign the hood and back of the race car just one day before the event so that regardless of whether they could attend, they were a part of the event. I have never experienced anything like that before —we met such amazing people with great stories and allowed them to have their signatures on the car for the race. We also set up a website, www.albertacancer.ca/28car where race fans could donate to support patient needs at the Cross Cancer Institute, as Brenda had always said she wanted to raise money for the Cross Cancer Institute once she recovered.
I have participated in four races since that visit, two of them being tributes to the Alberta Cancer Foundation, and every time I strap into the race car I think of those people that I met at the Cross Cancer Institute. I think of all of those people who have been affected by cancer and they are in our prayers. I smile now to think of those people because if it wasn’t for the Alberta Cancer Foundation, we would likely have never met and I am surely better because of it. We were so blessed with an opportunity to show our support for those battling cancer and those who have fought it in the past. As we continue to compete in multiple divisions of NASCAR, I am sure not one race will go by where I do not think of this special event and all of those who are still fighting.
By Guest Blogger Ian Admiraal, Co-Owner and Driver, Admiraal Racing