Race car driver from Prosser visits young patients

Murrow News ServiceMarch 19, 2014 

CJ Hawley, a race car driver from Prosser, decorates cookies on Wednesday with Yara Mendoza-Garcia, 6, of George, before her chemotherapy treatments at the Don and Lori Watts Pediatric Center at Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland

SARAH GORDON — Tri-City Herald

CJ Hawley likes to spend his weekends slinging a four-cylinder late model stock car around regional racetracks at speeds of more than 140 mph.

But the 17-year-old Prosser High School senior's determination to make a career out of racing is incomparable, he says, with the determination of a child fighting a terminal illness.

He met with some of those children Wednesday afternoon, visiting the Don and Lori Watts Pediatric Center at Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland.

"They're faced with an obstacle that's much worse than my obstacle," he said. "I'm fighting for an opportunity while they're fighting for their life."

Hawley played video games and decorated cookies with the children. Interacting with them put his problems -- such as finding sponsorship dollars -- in clear perspective, he said.

"My problems are nothing compared to that," said Hawley, entering his fourth season in the Northwest Pro-4 Alliance Series. "I'm pretty blessed; I get to go to a racetrack and drive a race car."

Hawley, originally from Othello, grew up around racing.

His father raced late models at local tracks for about 15 years, and other family members raced as well, he said.

Even before he began racing quarter midgets at age 5, Hawley said he knew it was what he wanted to do with his life.

"I could name all my race cars, and the drivers of them, before I knew my ABCs," he said of his childhood.

In 2011, at age 15, he became the youngest driver in the Northwest Pro-4 Alliance Series, a late model series featuring 75- to 100-lap feature races on 5/8-mile or smaller tracks throughout Washington, Oregon and Idaho.

Charity work has always run side-by-side with Hawley's racing exploits.

He teamed up with the Wishing Star Foundation, a Spokane-based nonprofit, for several years, raising money for a NASCAR Wishes program that allowed terminally ill children to attend races.

Although no longer associated with the foundation, he keeps their decals on his car, and stays in contact with children he previously helped out, sending them birthday presents.

Looking for a charity closer to home, Hawley chose Kadlec's pediatric ward.

Hawley will work with the hospital to create a fundraising objective, with the hope of giving the children a trip somewhere cool, like Idaho's Silverwood theme park, he said.

"I want to be able to give them something that they want," he said.

Hawley hopes to visit again next month, and will also bring his race car for the hospital's annual "Kidz Dig Rigz" event in May.

As for racing, Hawley said he's committed to doing "whatever it takes" to make a living at it, hopefully breaking into NASCAR and maybe one day reaching the Sprint Cup Series, the playground of Washington natives Greg Biffle and Kasey Kahne. Doing so, he admits, will not be easy.

"It takes a lot of money," he said. "It takes a lot of time. I have all the time in the world, but I don't really have all the money in the world."

Hawley needs to forge relationships with the right people, making marketing connections while winning on the racetrack, he said.

As a driver who's still a student, Hawley must also juggle racing with an education. But like a new set of racing slicks, he said he's managed to keep things equally balanced.

"If it came down to it, where I didn't have good grades ... I wouldn't be at the racetrack," he said.

Hawley must sometimes must skip school to work in the shop or pitch a sponsorship proposal, but said he gets work release during his first period class. This allows him to build his racing business while still earning academic credit.

This year, Hawley hopes to land a substantial sponsorship and win a series championship.

He is, after all, determined.

"Determination is everything in racing," he said. "Coming back after you get yourself into a wreck, or after you get torn down or something ... it's easy if you have the passion to do it."

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