Kelly Spino’s Front Row Experience: NASCAR
It was a brisk and sunny morning on October 14th when Kelly Spino and her husband, John, first stepped onto the Talladega Superspeedway. Tears filled Kelly’s eyes as she watched a bright pink breast cancer awareness pace car pull up in front of her. She never thought she’d find herself standing on this famous track let alone zooming around it in the pace car. 1 minute and 42 seconds of pure elation. We still had hours before the race and she had already had an unforgettable experience. Nobody could have predicted that even more meaningful moments were ahead.
This story doesn’t start on October 14th but rather in 2006 when Kelly was first diagnosed with breast cancer. Kelly (53), wife and mother of three, fought and defeated the disease. Tragedy struck hard with a recurrence in early 2018. This time… the prognosis was terminal. This kind of news can change so much.
One thing it didn’t change was her spirit. She remained determined to fill her days with good memories and love. That brought her to the Front Row Foundation website where she applied to see NASCAR at the famous Talladega Superspeedway!
Kelly has racing in her blood. Her grandfather, husband, and youngest son have all been involved in motor sports as drivers, owners, and crew at one time or another. Just getting to sit in the “nose-bleed” section would have been a dream come true. The day Kelly found out she and her husband would realize this dream in the front row… they found themselves holding each other and crying
tears of joy.
Kelly and John got out of the invigorating pace car ride and met our incredible host, Jake Owen of Owen Marketing Inc. He whisked us to the garages where all of the cars were being prepped for the big race. The air was filled with the roaring of engines and smell of rubber and gasoline. Kelly was busy closely inspecting car number 13, Ty Dillion’s ride, one of her favorites! As we walked towards pit road Jake told stories in fascinating detail about each crew and piece of machinery we passed.
With popcorn in hand, we made it to pit road. Crews were working like mad to keep everything running to perfection during the race. Kelly’s eyes were glued to the cars getting wheeled out onto the track just feet away. It was amazing how close she was to the excitement and even got to talk shop with one of the pit crews! Next stop, Victory Lane where the winner would later stand center stage! Kelly received VIP treatment and got to skip a long line fans in order to get her picture with the beautiful Talladega Speedway trophy!
By lunch it had been a full day. Kelly was wiping tears from her eyes as we left the trophy. We were secretly on to the biggest surprise yet. Fans lined up behind gated barriers. Kelly wheeled along the red carpet clinging to her; From Chemo to Front Row; poster. Jake led us past the long line of onlookers to the exclusive racers’ entrance! Kelly sat patiently in her wheelchair waiting for the first driver to emerge. She didn’t know it would be her favorite. AJ Allmendinger had already heard about Kelly and was excited to meet her. He knelt down to hug her, shake hands, and have a sweet conversation with her and John before approaching the rest of his adoring fans waiting yards away. Driver after driver followed suit. Each one stopped to sign Kelly’s Front Row poster and in turn she wished them good luck on the race.
We exited through same path the drivers had with fans hanging over the railways on each side. As John pushed Kelly, the fans went wild… cheering for Ms Kelly!! With her hand on her heart and her hanky close by she smiled and waved at her newly found fan club.
We stopped under the VIP tent for a hearty lunch before the finding the infield’s best seats. Kelly and John were right above the pit crews and could see all the action.
The energy was palpable as the cars flew buy lap after lap. Jake was right there giving us more history on each of the drivers,commentary on pit crews; current performances, and more. We were on the 187th of 188 rounds when a car skidded off the track causing a need for additional laps to determine a winner. Things got heated. It was anyone’s race and drivers were getting aggressive. In an amazing few laps one of Kelly’s top underdog pick, Aric Almirola, managed to move from 12th place to 1st in a matter of minutes. A surprising but welcomed win indeed!
The day was long but Kelly didn’t miss a minute. Multiple times we saw her come alive with joy and put her head on John’s shoulder to soak in and fully feel the moment. We said our goodbyes to Jake and slowly made it back under the turn 4 tunnel from the infield back to the main roads. At the hotel, Kelly and John were both ready for a good night’s sleep. You could see that her illness was really fatiguing, but she still had a smile on her face. Before saying goodnight she expressed the deepest gratitude and said this truly was the best day of her life.