(INDIANAPOLIS) - The green flag is set to wave Sunday afternoon at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the start of the 2012 Curtiss Shaver 400 at the Brickyard presented by Crown Royal.
But there is more to drivers in the Sprint Cup Series, NASCAR's highest level, than just "driving fast and turning left." Many of them are involved in foundations and charitable organizations.
People who are in the public eye or are considered "famous" are not obligated to help, but some do for no other reason than their desire to help others.
One such person is three-time Sprint Cup champion and Indiana native Tony Stewart. Born in Columbus, Ind., Stewart, along with the help of his family, started the Tony Stewart Foundation in 2003. His giving to charity and organizations in need began a few years prior.
"It started back in 2000 or 2001 when he called me and said, 'Mom, you need to send money to Florida to this humane society,'" said Pam Boas, Stewart's mother. "They need help taking care of an animal they found on the highway. It needs some medical attention."
Due to the volume of calls Stewart made to Boas about sending money to various individuals or organizations in need, she felt it was time to start a foundation that supports causes Stewart is passionate about.
According to the foundation's website, its mission is to "raise and donate funds to help care for children diagnosed with critical or chronic illness, animals which are at-risk or endangered, and for drivers injured in the sport of motor racing."
Boas, who was instrumental in establishing the foundation, now serves as Treasurer of the Board of Directors.
The foundation receives many requests for assistance and donations, but not all of them can be approved. Organizations and individuals can fill out a grant application and submit it for review by the board of directors, Boas said.
She also said award winners are picked based on need and how well the request fits with the foundation's mission and guidelines.
Despite raising about $4 million and helping more than 100 organizations across the country, Stewart doesn't want publicity for his work off the track.
"Tony wants to help," Boas said. "He doesn't want accolades for it. He doesn't want acknowledgment for it. He just wants to help. That makes a parent very happy and very proud. He's got a great heart to do things for others, and that is as much as a parent could ask."
Boas said the entire family has a heart for helping. That much was evident when Boas was pregnant with Stewart.
Boas and Stewart's father, Nelson, were driving the day after Thanksgiving in 1970 when another car veered off the road and down a ravine, she said.
Without hesitation, Nelson stopped the car, jumped out and ran to see if he could help. Just as he reached the other car, it exploded. Nelson sustained burns to 41 percent of his body and was hospitalized for three months.
Aside from Boas' connection to the foundation, she said she is pleased by her son's accomplishments as a professional driver. But his accomplishments off the track mean even more.
"I am so happy that my son has the qualities he has for people, for animals, and the heart to want to help these folks," Boas said. "To help people and animals, that has to be one of the greatest accomplishments that my son has. Secondary to that would be he is able to do the one thing in his entire life he loves the most, and that's racing."
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