Josh’s Front Row Experience: Daytona 500
Illness: Desmoplastic Small Round Cell Tumors, late stage 4.
Meet Josh Maehler. Beloved son and brother.
Smart and hard working, Josh’s mom describes him as someone who “puts his all into any project he picks up until it’s finished.” With high school nearly behind him, Josh was accepted into the United States Navy and was planning to study Nuclear Engineering when his world was turned upside down.
Weeks away from graduation, Josh had been complaining of a stomach ache. One night, his father woke up to find him on the couch, paralyzed by pain. Josh was rushed to the hospital where the doctors drained 7 liters of malignant fluid from his abdomen. He was tested and later diagnosed with a rare form of stage 4 sarcoma.
Josh had hundreds of tumors in his abdomen—from his chest to his pelvis. Throughout the past year he’s had 9 rounds of chemo with 8 different drugs, three major abdominal surgeries, and 4 weeks of radiation. He now has a tumor on his liver and nodules in his lungs. Presently, no surgeries or aggressive forms of treatment will keep the tumors away.
Josh’s mom, Annie, credits his humor and sarcasm with helping him through this incredibly difficult time. “He doesn’t take life too seriously and he can always lighten up a bad day,” she shared. Knowing Josh and his love of cars—remote cars, sports cars, classic cars, and especially NASCAR—Josh’s mom reached out to Front Row and applied for an experience to the Daytona 500.
Watch below to see Josh and his incredibly supportive family talk about his diagnosis, treatment, and his special day in the Front Row.
Fast forward to February 17th, the night before the race and our Front Row team members Rebecca Herzog and Joreen Varecka were excited to meet Josh and family for dinner. They had just spent the week at Disney World and now they all gathered together—his parents, stepparents, and two sisters—for his Front Row moment. Ah-mazing.
The group had dinner at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge in Orlando and then filmed the emotional interview above. It was a meaningful night for all involved—Josh’s family hadn’t had the opportunity to process his illness in this way before and felt grateful for the opportunity to talk about their journey.
This crew was up and at ‘em early the next day to make it to Daytona Speedway in time for the event. Bex and Joreen picked up Josh and his family at 5:30 am with a limo stocked full of Dunkin Donuts goodies, plus loads of snacks and drinks.
The speedway was massive and it was truly incredible to be inside. Shortly after arriving we took photos and secured a wheel chair for Josh, knowing that he’d be tired after a full week at Disney with his family.Plenty of photos were taken—both of the family and the cars. We had more than a few celebrity sightings: Dale Inman (retired Crew Chief), Richard Childress (of Richard Childress Racing), Richard Petty (The King!), and Cletus McFarland (YouTube).
We were able to surprise the entire family with a garage tour, courtesy of Jeff Owen and Owen Marketing (thanks too, to our friend John Ruhlin, for connecting us), which was a fun peek into the racing world.
The Pit Boxes were amazing! Loaded with electronics to monitor the weather and track conditions, the pits are the control center for every driver and his car. Josh had the chance to climb a ladder to check out a Pit Box and see the entire race track right in front of him. All of us got to walk through a trailer that pulled the driver’s extra car.
In the meantime, our videographer, Acie, had fun hanging out with Josh and even gave him the chance to use his camera to capture some footage of the cars.
A major victory for the day included 2 hot passes (that Annie was able to get through a connection), which allowed Josh and his dad, Brian, to stay in the Pits for the entire race! They were even able to attend the 11:30 am Driver meeting along with every driver and anyone who was involved in the event. Josh met Peyton Manning, Gary LeVox (the lead singer of Rascal Flatts), and Dale Earnhardt, Jr—he even got Dale’s signature!
At the end of the day, Joreen commented on how tired Josh was…but when asked about the day he instantly lit up. “It was so great to see him come alive,” she said.
Unfortunately, due to the VIP nature of the hot passes, our photographer was booted once the race began—but Josh and Brian assured us, it was AMAZING.
Josh, it was a gift to meet you and your family. What an awesome day at the Daytona 500!
Since the big day, Josh and his family have had incredibly difficult news.
Existing tumors have grown and new areas have active cancerous tumors. Results show Metastasis to the T12 vertebrae and 12th right rib, as well as the liver. His back pain is growing and he is requesting a higher dose of pain medication. At this time, Josh will discontinue chemo while his doctor explores a trial that may start next month. It has the potential to extend his life but not offer a cure.
In a conversation with Annie, she said “This makes our recent trip that much more memorable and important.”