Parents . . . start your engines

| September 10, 2014 | 0 Comments
Dan Heyda, front left, enjoys the spoils of victory as he takes part in the Elko Speedway tradition of posing for a photo after winning the Driving for Excellence fundraiser race for Holy Cross School in Webster. Joining him are, clockwise from upper left, his father, Chris Heyda; father-in-law, Greg Skluzacek; and daughters, Anna and Ellie, who attend Holy Cross School. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Dan Heyda, front left, enjoys the spoils of victory as he takes part in the Elko Speedway tradition of posing for a photo after winning the Driving for Excellence fundraiser race for Holy Cross School in Webster. Joining him are, clockwise from upper left, his father, Chris Heyda; father-in-law, Greg Skluzacek; and daughters, Anna and Ellie, who attend Holy Cross School. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

It was quite a dilemma for Anna Heyda on a rainy night near Elko New Market.

The kindergartener at Holy Cross School in nearby Webster was at Elko Speedway to watch her father, Dan, and both of her grandfathers, Chris Heyda and Greg Skluzacek, climb into race cars to take a few laps around the track.

The three drivers, plus 17 more, were there to race against each other in a fundraiser for Holy Cross. Each of the three men were placed in a different heat, which presented no cheering conflicts for Anna and her younger sister, Ellie, who is entering preschool at Holy Cross.

But, as it turned out, all three men made it to the finals, along with two other drivers.

So, the big question: Who was Anna going to cheer for now?

Minutes after the race, she faced the question head on, and answered simply — all of them. Without hesitation, she smiled and pointed at each one of them.

Any diplomat would have been proud of her.

Yet, when pressed a little harder, she did reveal a slight bias toward her dad, who came through in the championship race, taking an early lead and holding it through the checkered flag. He held off a serious challenge from his father-in-law Greg Skluzacek, who vowed before the race that he would prevail in the finals.

“I’m just going to go wide open ’til these guys are in the dust,” Skluzacek had said, moments before walking onto the track for the race.

Dan, however, had other ideas.

“I can never let anybody [else] win,” said Dan, of Most Holy Trinity in Veseli, who married Skluzacek’s daughter, Jamie, and had the upper hand in car racing based on previous experience at the track as a driver 10 years ago.

Skluzacek tried to be gracious in defeat, but couldn’t help poking a playful jab at his victorious son-in-law when asked why his prediction of a win didn’t come true.

“My conscience just wouldn’t let me [pass Dan in the race],” said Skluzacek, who belongs to Immaculate Conception in Lonsdale. “I wanted my son-in-law to have the glory. I didn’t want to steal his thunder. I backed off.”

In the end, the event was not so much about winning a race as it was raising money for a school that its principal says is a “well-kept secret.”

And, despite only two months of advance publicity, the fundraiser, called Driving for Excellence, raised $3,000 for Holy Cross, which has 176 students in pre-k through eighth grade.

That put a smile on the face of principal Lisa Simon, who quickly approved the idea for a race night when the school’s events committee pitched it to her back in June.

“I think this is an incredibly creative fundraiser for our school,” Simon said. “And it’s a way to think outside the box to get families involved in supporting our school and build community at the same time.”

A school employee, Anne Fredrickson, organized the event. Her husband, Duane, has a long background in racing and works at Elko Speedway. In his younger days, he was a driver. Not surprisingly, the two met at a racing banquet in 1993 and married two years later.

“Chris Wagner is one of our dads. He approached me last spring,” said Anne, who has two children at the school. “We had talked about a go-kart fundraiser that he’d seen. And, with my husband’s connection and my connection here at Elko Speedway, we decided to step it up and go with real race cars instead of go-karts, and have it off site and make a bigger deal out of it.”

And, a big deal it was. More than 100 school supporters sat through a brief rain storm and ensuing track drying process as they waited for the championship race during an intermission in the real races.

There was one race fan who might have had more joy than the other spectators — fourth-grade teacher Kris Minalovsky. For the last 25 years, she has been a fixture at the track, taking her usual spot in the second row near the flag stand.

When she first heard about the event, she wondered  whether the school was doing it just for her. Not a far-fetched idea, considering what Anne and Duane had cooked up for her during the last week of school this past spring.

Her dream for decades had been to ride in a pace car, a vehicle used by the track at the start of each race to lead drivers around the track in preparation. Anne called Duane, and Duane pulled up in the school parking lot with the car.

“The whole class stood and cheered, and they gave me a flag to wave out the window,” Minalovsky said. “It was pretty amazing for me. We drove out in the country, out on a country road. It was awesome.”

On this night, Minalovsky was surrounded by new race fans, people the school hopes will want to come back again next year for a similar event.

“I hope we can [do it next year],” Simon said. “We’ve got a large group of moms who are interested in doing it next year. They just were so inspired and thought it looked like so much fun.”

“It’s a different kind of event than your traditional cookie dough fundraiser,” Anne Fredrickson said. “And, I think it reflects that we think outside the box and we like to approach things creatively, not just in our fundraising, but in our school and our classrooms, that we are always looking for new ways to get kids excited and to get parents excited and to bring excellence to everything that we do.”

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Category: Featured, The Last Word