Crate champion's illness brings new perspective
By Joshua JoinerDirtonDirt.com staff writer
Chase Washington had big plans for 2013. After claiming 15 victories on his way to the NeSmith Chevrolet Dirt Late Model Series weekly championship last season, the 22-year-old Crate Late Model racer from Houlka, Miss., set his sights on not only a repeat of his weekly title but also a run at the organization’s national touring series.
Those lofty plans took an abrupt turn before the season even got rolling.
Not long after competing in NeSmith’s season-opening Florida Speedweeks action at Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala, Fla., in February, Washington was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a form of cancer that affects the lymph nodes, spleen, and other organs of the immune system.
“I started feeling sick one night (at Ocala), but I really didn’t think much about it,” Washington said. “A couple weeks later I had to go to the emergency room. It took a few trips to the doctor, but about a month later they finally figured out what it was and told me I needed surgery.”
Instead of spending the time after Speedweeks to gear up for a busy racing season, Washington underwent major surgery to remove an 18-inch cancerous portion of his small intestine in April and has since begun chemotherapy.
“We set out to run the national events, and we were actually gonna try both the national deal and the weekly deal,” said Washington, who claimed last year’s NeSmith weekly title in a tiebreaker with Mikey Trosclair of Luling, La. “We had our goals high, but obviously, that changed pretty quick.”
Fortunately, Washington’s cancer was diagnosed early, and his doctors told him the surgery was successful. As a precautionary measure, Washington’s will undergo a total of six rounds of chemotherapy over the next 18 weeks.
The chemotherapy will force Washington to miss much of the season. But even though he won’t return to the driver’s seat for a while, the experience has already changed his outlook on racing.
“It kinda just makes you sit back and think 'Why did I take it so serious?’ It makes you appreciate it a lot more than what you used to,” Washington said. “Sometimes you get a little frustrated with things, but when something like this happens, you kinda sit back and think about it and really don’t let that small stuff bother you anymore.”
While he won’t get to enjoy driving a race car for a while, Washington has at least been able to enjoy seeing his car continue to run up front. To keep his car on the racetrack, Washington and his family-owned race team turned to close friend and fellow racer Scott Dedwylder of Vosburg, Miss., to fill in.
Dedwylder, last year’s Mississippi State Championship Challenge Series champion, has been superb in his substitute duties, winning three out of four races in NeSmith weekly racing action between May 10 and 18 and finishing second in the other race.
While Washington would give almost anything to be back behind the wheel himself, his time out of the car is made at least somewhat easier by Dedwylder’s success.
“It’s tough, but if he keeps winning like that it won’t be too bad,” Washington said. “He’s always been a big part of my racing since we started. He owns his own business and everything so he doesn’t get to race as much as he’d like to, so it kinda worked out to be a good deal for all of us.”
The racing community will come together in support of Washington this weekend during the NeSmith touring series tripleheader at Hattiesburg (Miss.) Motorsports Park, Whynot (Miss.) Motorsports Park and Magnolia Motor Speedway in Columbus.
In a fundraiser organized by Trosclair and his family, various raffles will be held at all three events and rides in NeSmith’s two-seater Late Model will be auctioned to fans. NeSmith series drivers will take the wheel for the two-seater rides, including Trosclair and Dedwylder.
“I really wanna thank them for all they’ve done,” Washington said. “Everyone knows how racing is. We drivers, we get after it on the racetrack and battle each other. But it’s nice to know when something like this happens ... everyone sticks together to help one of their own out. It really warms my heart for everyone to step up and do what they’re doing.”
With plans to return to the drivers’ seat by October, Washington hopes he can help others the same way that he is being helped by participating in similar fundraising events at late-season races.
“That’s definitely something I’m looking forward to,” Washington said. “I want to do everything I can to help people in my situation. I realize there’s more people out there in worse situations that need way more help than I do.
“I’ve been lucky and had a lot of support and help with this whole deal. Once we get through all this, I definitely want to give back and support others.”