In just three days, 9-year-old Wyatt Zender and his family will see his artwork come to life on the Chicagoland Speedway.
Wyatt, a cancer patient at Seattle Children’s, was the lucky winner of a coloring contest presented by Great Clips to design the paint scheme for Kasey Kahne’s No. 5 Great Clips Strong Against Cancer Chevrolet SS, which Kahne will drive at the first playoff race of the NASCAR Cup Series, The Tales of the Turtles 400, on Sept. 17.
“Our family is so excited to see Wyatt’s colorful design speed down the racetrack,” said Wyatt’s mom, Heather Zender. “This has been a great opportunity to give Wyatt the chance to do something fun and share his story as well.”
The long and windy road
The past year hasn’t been an easy ride for the Zender family.
After noticing an egg-sized lump on Wyatt’s neck, his family took him to the doctor to get it checked.
“They said he had some form of cancer,” said Zender. “It was completely devastating and we hoped they had it all wrong.”
What they thought would be a short hospital stay, ended up being months long as Wyatt began treatment at Seattle Children’s where he was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma.
“The thing that Wyatt missed the most about home was his friends at school and playing football,” said Zender. “He wanted so badly to be an active and energetic kid again.”
It was during this time that Wyatt decided to pick up a new hobby that he could do while at the hospital — art.
“The hospital’s art cart would frequently stop by his room to provide various coloring supplies and crafts for Wyatt to explore his creativity,” said Zender. “It gave him something to do when he wasn’t feeling well.”
Zooming down the racetrack with flying colors
A nurse noticed Wyatt’s artistic talent and encouraged him to join the Great Clips coloring contest.
Inspired by his favorite colors, Wyatt’s imagination spilled onto the coloring page with delicate crayon strokes using blue, yellow and red.
“I thought of what the coolest car would look like and that’s what I came up with,” said Wyatt.
After reviewing the submissions, Kahne selected three of his favorites. After a final fan vote, Wyatt’s design was the winner.
“It was such a great surprise!” said Zender. “It was also neat to learn that one of Kasey’s first races was at the Deming Speedway in our hometown. In a way, this contest allowed Wyatt to be connected to home after being away from it for so long.”
Along with Wyatt’s winning design, the car will also feature the logo for Strong Against Cancer, a national philanthropic initiative with worldwide implications for potentially curing childhood cancers.
“I am so happy we are able to partner with Great Clips, Seattle Children’s and their Strong Against Cancer initiative for the second year in a row,” said Kahne. “I always enjoy looking at the paint schemes that the children design and hope that even though they are going through a hard time, this is something they can participate in and take their mind off of what they are going through.”
Going full throttle all the way to Chicago
On June 16, Wyatt found out he was well enough to stop chemotherapy treatments. A little over a month later, his care team gave him the ‘green light’ to travel, meaning Wyatt would be able to attend the race in Chicago.
Energized by the news, he raced home to get a head start on packing for the trip to see his colorful masterpiece in its full racing form.
“Without the fabulous care Wyatt received at Seattle Children’s, he wouldn’t have been able to regain his energy to travel to the race, let alone simply enjoy being a kid again,” said Zender. “Our community back home also played a huge role in Wyatt’s journey, rooting him on every step of the way.”
Wyatt is now revved up and ready to enjoy the upcoming weekend of VIP activities at the racetrack, like touring the NASCAR garage and meeting Kasey Kahne.
“I am really looking forward to meeting Wyatt and his family at Chicagoland and I can’t wait for him to see his design on the track,” said Kahne.
As the race cars hightail it past the starting line, Wyatt and his family will be cheering from the stands.
“The thing I’m most excited about for the race is seeing Kasey win!” said Wyatt.
One thing is for certain — Wyatt’s strength and optimism are a winning combination.
“Through this difficult past year, it was amazing to see how Wyatt took everything in stride,” said Zender. “He’s so resilient and with this experience, we’ve all learned how important family is.”
If you are interested in joining the fight to help end childhood cancer, please visit Strong Against Cancer’s donation page.