Following his mother’s sudden death in 2011, NASCAR driver Joey Gase made the decision to donate her organs, eyes and tissues, which ultimately touched the lives of 66 individuals in desperate need of a transplant. Since then, Gase has become as passionate about donation as he is about racing. In December 2015, he was awarded NASCAR’s inaugural COMCAST Community Outreach Award for his work supporting organ, eye and tissue donation and donor families.
Ethan Rutledge, a 2014 graduate of Loganville High School and student athlete at Columbus State University, passed away in 2014 after a single car accident. He was a humble man who never met a stranger and he made a positive impact on many throughout his life. Ethan made the decision, before his death, to register as an organ donor, and LifeLink worked with his family to honor his wishes. (Shown left: Ethan Rutledge, organ donor)
For the Rinnai 250 at Atlanta Motor Speedway held on February 24, 2018, Gase raced the LifeLink® and Donate Life Georgia #35 car in honor of his mother and others touched by donation and transplantation, like Ethan. Ethan’s picture was placed on the back panel of the #35 car as a tribute to those whose lives were forever changed by his decision to donate life, such as Eddie Cannon. After suffering from non-ischemic cardiomyopathy, Eddie waited nearly six months for a heart transplant; a chance that became reality when he received Ethan’s heart. Two families, one heart, one strong bond forever. (Shown right: Eddie Cannon and wife, Ester, with back panel of #35 car)
Prior to race day, Gase visited Loganville City Hall to share his personal experience as a donor family member and to honor Ethan, and all donor families, with Ethan’s family, friends and community. During this event, dubbed Handprints of Hope, over 150 transplant recipients, donor families, registered organ donors and members of the Loganville community were invited to leave handprints and signatures on Joey’s car. The car remained covered in handprints throughout the race as inspiration for NASCAR fans about the power of donation. (Shown left: LifeLink staff members placing handprints on the #35 car during Handprints of Hope event.)
The once in a lifetime opportunity of experiencing the race from behind the scenes was amazing for Ethan’s family (mom – Charity, father – Ron, sister – Emily) and Eddie and wife, Ester. They toured the car hauler, stood on the infield for driver introductions, honored our country during the National Anthem with Gase’ team, and sat on the top of Gase’ pit box to cheer him on to a 26th place finish in the Rinnai 250. (Shown right: Joey Gase; family of Ethan Rutledge; and Eddie and Ester Cannon)