Farnbacher Loles Racing and the Children's Tumor Foundation will have more than one goal during the Rolex 24 At Daytona on Jan. 24 and 25. The team's five drivers hope to carry the No. 85 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car across the finish line after 24 intense hours of racing on the 3.56-mile infield road course at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla. They also hope to raise awareness and funds for the foundation's Racing4Research program (racing4research.org).
Porsche factory driver Wolf Henzler of Nürtingen, Germany, will drive the first stint, starting from fifth on the GT class grid. Richard Campollo of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic; Michael Gomez of Madison, Ala.; Daniel Graeff of Miami and Ron Yarab of Poland, Ohio, will then alternate driving stints through the 24-hour race.
Two of the drivers have personal links to the Foundation. When they're not on track, Gomez and Yarab are physicians who have worked with patients who have neurofibromatosis, a set of genetic disorders that cause tumor growth throughout the body. The Children's Tumor Foundation is the leading non-government funder of neurofibromatosis research. Each lap the team completes at Daytona will raise money pledged by donors to support clinical trials of potential drug treatments.
Yarab used a racing analogy to explain neurofibromatosis: "The nerve is like a wiring harness for an engine. You have an outer plastic coating, and inside are the wires with insulation around them. Neurofibromatosis is tumors that form from the insulation around the nerves or the wires. There is another form where the outer coating that wraps around the nerve can form tumors. They're benign, but any time you have tumors, the neurologicial system can push on other organs or cause lots of other problems."
Neurofibromatosis can cause tumors to grow on nerves, including the brain and spinal cord. It can lead to blindness, deafness, chronic pain, disfigurement, learning disabilities, bone defects, cardiovascular problems, cancer and other complications. Research enabled by the Children's Tumor Foundation has played a key role in the discovery of the genes that cause neurofibromatosis, understanding of the condition's biology, creation of a clinic network and preclinical screening of promising drug treatments.
"The endurance aspect of the race is similar to the endurance aspect of leading a life with neurofibromatosis," CTF executive director George Orfanakos explained. "After 24 straight hours of racing, the cars are often very beat-up and very run-down. The Children's Tumor Foundation is competing in a race to prevent children from suffering the potentially devastating effects that a lifetime of neurofibromatosis can have on the body, and these doctors are helping make sure we win the race."
The names of 24 "NF Heroes" – children affected by neurofibromatosis (NF) – will adorn the No. 85 Children's Tumor Foundation Porsche during the Rolex 24. It will be joined on track by five other Porsches supported by Farnbacher Loles Racing. The team's 25 drivers and 80 crew members will all have a stake in the Racing4Research quest. If the No. 85 car is unable to complete the Rolex 24, the other team cars will continue to log laps, taking the CTF donors to the checkered flag.