by Andrea Powell, HPCCR Marketing Manager
Living in Charlotte, NC makes you extremely well aware of NASCAR and its popularity. We’ve got the NASCAR Hall of Fame in our uptown, many of the big-name drivers live in our neck of the woods, most of the huge racing shops are here, and our city hosts two very large races each year. I tend to think of Charlotte as ground zero for NASCAR passion. And since all this stuff is RIGHT HERE, we sometimes forget that there are other places in this great country where NASCAR fans dwell. People who eat, sleep, live, and breathe fast cars and loud engines.
Like Texas. That’s where Kymberlea Wallace grew up and she might be the biggest NASCAR fan I’ve ever met. Kymberlea was a child of the 1970s which meant that, growing up, she had three or four channels to choose from on her black and white TV. She vividly remembers one Sunday after church, turning on the TV, and seeing a NASCAR race featured on ABC’s Wide World of Sports. That’s all it took. One race and she was hooked.
Cale Yarborough was her very first idol. She’s had many more since. (Dale Jr. is her main man right now.) Over the years, Kymberlea left her home state of Texas many times (her parents and friends shaking their heads in perplexion) to travel to various locations (Atlanta, Pocono, etc.) for her NASCAR fix.
A self-professed “greasehead”, Kymberlea has never lost her passion. Her passion is so strong, in fact, that she picked up and moved to the Charlotte area in 2012 just to be near the sport. Her husband had recently passed away and she remembers that, before he died, he said to her, “When I’m gone, you’re going to move to North Carolina, aren’t you?” Well, she absolutely did.
In July 2012, Kymberlea was diagnosed with breast cancer. Told that with chemotherapy and radiation, she might expect to live two years, she bravely opted to forgo treatment, choosing to live her life on her terms for as long as she had left.
The cancer spread. In November 2014, she came under the care of Hospice & Palliative Care Charlotte Region but later that month, an overabundance of fluid in her lungs put her in the hospital. Her prognosis looked fairly grim. Luckily, that’s when Kymberlea learned about Levine & Dickson Hospice House – Huntersville. She got settled into her room at LDHH-H the day before Thanksgiving.
Kymberlea loved being at LDHH-H. The staff answered her every need and took exceptional care of her. And while there, she met Naomi and Robin, little NASCAR fairy godmothers who conspired to give her the experience of a lifetime.
Kymberlea in her number 18 jacket beside the 18 car (driven by Kyle Busch)
Here’s what’s amazing: as die-hard of a fan as Kymberlea is, she had NO idea that Joe Gibbs Racing was practically across the street from LDHH-H. What’s more, she didn’t know (how could she?) that LDHH-H staff member Naomi was married to a Joe Gibbs employee and that the volunteer assigned to her, Robin, was one of the original Joe Gibbs employees. Pure coincidence? I really don’t think so. Pure kismet, if you ask me.
As soon as Naomi and Robin realized what a huge NASCAR fan they had on their hands, they began plotting. Naomi got approval from Kymberlea’s doctors and steamrolled everything along. She and Robin got in touch with the folks at Joe Gibbs Racing and explained the situation. They graciously agreed to take Kymberlea on a tour of the facility and give her a VIP experience. It happened just days before Christmas.
Let me tell you, they pulled out all the stops. You should see Kymberlea’s face when she talks about the tour. In fact, she almost has no words to describe the events that unfolded. It was, quite simply, a dream come true.
Back in her room, sporting her number 18 hat and jacket
They took her places where most people don’t get to go. She saw the administrative offices and the break room. She basically got to walk through the life cycle of a car, stopping at each station on the assembly line to learn exactly what happens at that point in time when Joe Gibbs Racing builds a new racecar. She met some of the crew chiefs. She spent over an hour with the guys in the truck shop, eating donuts and listening to them talk about their jobs. She peeked into Joe Gibbs’ office and saw Joe’s son, J.D. (She actually recognized him from the back of his head. Didn’t I tell you she was a fanatic?!) She got to smell oil and gasoline and hear engines roar so loud she vibrated. If there is a heaven for Kymberlea Wallace, this was it.
When I met with Kymberlea in mid January, she was still buzzing from the experience. She was in awe that the folks at Levine & Dickson Hospice House – Huntersville would go to such great lengths to make her so happy. “I feel like angels lifted me up. These people have been more than amazing. If I could hug every one of them right now, I would!”
Joe Gibbs Racing was very generous with their swag!
I looked around Kymberlea’s room that day and saw all the swag that she had been given — books, shirts, hats, and a really slick jacket — and I saw something unique. It was the room of a person who was embracing life. I saw a woman who had chosen her own path, bravely beating the odds (so far) that were set for her over two years ago. I could sense the passion that fuels her, could hear the strength of spirit in her words. She’s independent, fierce, and driven.
I seriously think Kymberlea missed her calling as a NASCAR driver.
Kymberlea would like to sincerely thank every single person at LDHH-H and Joe Gibbs Racing who helped make this experience possible for her. It was truly one of the highlights of her life.