Hinsdale lands on NASCAR circuit

Pro driver Erik Jones makes pre-race cancer center stop to encourage good health

Local UChicago Medicine AdventHealth staff had reason to follow the NASCAR Chicago Street Race on Sunday after professional driver Erik Jones stopped by the organization's Cancer Institute in Hinsdale Friday.

Jones brought his No. 43 UChicago Medicine AdventHealth-branded race car to the 1 Salt Creek Lane facility to promote the sporting event and to raise awareness about skin cancer and other causes close to his heart. In remarks to kick off the pep rally, the 28-year-old Michigan native shared his personal connection with cancer.

"My dad was diagnosed with an really aggressive form of melanoma in 2016. We lost him really in a matter of months," said Jones.

He subsequently started the Erik Jones Foundation to help transform his family's heartbreak into a resource for others' benefit.

"We knew right away that skin cancer detection and early prevention and awareness was going to be a big part of (the foundation)," he said. "It's been a learning experience for me through all of it, learning about what you can do to prevent it and just be proactive."

The Sun Bus was on hand providing sun damage camera assessments and EltaMD handed out samples of sunscreen to attendees.

Talking about the race, Jones said he enjoys the unique format of street racing compared to the typical oval track racing.

"I wasn't sure coming in what it was really going to be like racing in a city downtown," he said. "It's pretty cool. I remember last year and kind of taking a second just on a cool-down lap to really look around and see the city getting to drive a race car on city streets. We love doing it as drivers."

Wishes for better weather conditions than last year's deluge weren't exactly granted as rain delayed the race's start and then temporarily halted action when conditions worsened. The race eventually resumed but in abbreviated form due to fading light at that point.

Jones, a two-time winner of the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina, placed 29th overall.

Adam Maycock, president and CEO of UChicago Medicine AdventHealth Hinsdale and La Grange, said just having Jones visit as part of the week of pre-race festivities was a victory.

"We decided to have this event at the cancer center because of this focus on the Erik Jones Foundation and on cancer prevention and awareness," Maycock said. "It's just a great chance to continue getting our brand out and tell our story around keeping our community whole."

He explained that pro sports sponsorships fit into the AdventHealth's vision to elevate its national profile.

"That's a way for the community to not only know who we are but what we stand for," Maycock said.

He acknowledged that NASCAR hadn't really been on his own radar until very recently.

"You can't help but get interested when you're local and you get a chance to see it firsthand," said Maycock, citing stats showing Chicagoland as the top media market for the motorsports circuit.

Jones said it's gratifying to welcome fans as well as help expose more people to the sport.

"I think it gets a little overlooked, but Michigan and Illinois, Wisconsin, all these places are really hotbeds for racing," he said, underscoring Maycock's point. "Last year 80 percent of the people who were (at the Chicago Street Race) had never attended a NASCAR race before, so that's huge for us."

In addition to skin cancer awareness, Jones' foundation also promotes animal welfare and literacy. After his Hinsdale appearance Friday, Jones was scheduled to read to children at a pediatric unit at a local hospital.

Jones' career can be traced back to racing go-karts at age 7. He worked his way up to the NASCAR Truck Series by age 16, which necessitated a move to North Carolina, and started racing in the NASCAR Cup Series in 2017. Richard Petty and Jimmie Johnson are among the racing team owner luminaries for whom Jones has competed.

"There was a lot of change and a lot going on, but it was a great learning experience for me," he said of his teenage emergence.

Jones and wife Holly - also a professional racer - will become parents in November with the birth of their baby boy. He said returning to his Midwestern roots for competitions reminds him of his own youth.

"It feels a lot like home coming here, and this time of year's just great here," he said.

Monica Reed, CEO of UChicago Medicine AdventHealth, said there's collaborative synergy with NASCAR.

"When it comes to feeling whole, a lot of people get that from sports," she said, "to keep striving for performance."

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean