Stonington High student raises cancer awareness with race car

Jacob Perry, right, 15, of  Pawcatuck, in the pit area with his father Dennis Perry as they work on their SK Modified division car at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl in Waterford on Thursday, August 23, 2017.  (Tim Martin/The Day)
Jacob Perry, right, 15, of Pawcatuck, in the pit area with his father Dennis Perry as they work on their SK Modified division car at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl in Waterford on Thursday, August 23, 2017. (Tim Martin/The Day)

Stonington — When 15-year-old Jacob Perry of Pawcatuck won one of his first races at the Waterford Speedbowl last year, he carried the ashes of his late grandfather in his car.

It was a way to honor his grandfather, an auto racing fan, who died of throat cancer in 2015.

Now the Stonington High School sophomore is honoring his grandfather, his grandmother — who died of lung cancer in 2007 — and hundreds of other cancer victims, survivors and those fighting the disease, with a car christened the Cancer Warrior.

The white, pink and purple car carries the names of more than 100 cancer survivors and victims as a way to honor them and raise awareness about the disease.

“You don’t realize how many people have this disease and how many people are battling it,” Perry said last week while taking a break from his after-school job at Valenti Subaru in Westerly. “I want people to realize just how big this disease is and that we need to find a way to prevent it. There’s so many people out there who have it just in our little community.”

“We’re just trying to bring a little more recognition to the people fighting this," added his father, Dennis Perry, who works on the cars with Jacob. “That’s why we wanted it to be the Warrior car. To fight this, you’re killing part of yourself with chemotherapy and radiation.”

The Perrys ask that anyone who wants a name on the car to make a donation to the charity of their choice. While the Perrys support cancer-related charities such as the Make-A-Wish Foundation and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital for their own donations, they said any charity is acceptable.

Over the past four weeks, they estimate that those who have asked to have names placed on the car have made $2,000 in charitable donations.

“We didn’t have a lot of sponsors for the car. So we decided to do something that’s meaningful and personal for people,” Dennis Perry said.

Jacob Perry said people are coming up to him at races to take their photo with the car.

“It’s nice for them to see the name of their family member who loves this sport on the car,” Dennis Perry said.

Jacob Perry hopes to someday start his own cancer foundation if he’s successful in moving up to a higher level of racing.

A third-generation racer who does not yet have driver’s license (one is not required to race), Jacob Perry has racing in his blood. His father and grandfather were racers, and his father and mother, Cheryl, met at a race.

He began racing when he was just 4 years old at the Little T Speedway in Thompson. He worked his way up through the divisions at both the Waterford Speedbowl and Thompson Speedway and last year began racing against adult rivers. Last year he won four races at the Waterford Speedbowl and was named Rookie of the Year.

He moved up to the SK Modified division at the Speedbowl four weeks ago and has finished in the top 10 in three of his first four races. He is ranked third in the Mini Stock Division at both the Speedbowl and the Thompson Speedway.

“He makes mistakes but he tries to earn the respect of other drivers," Dennis Perry said.

The Perrys do not have a big budget team with lots of sponsors so they drive cars owned by other people and work on the cars themselves. Dennis Perry points out that the money his son earns cleaning cars at the Valenti Subaru goes toward his racing and he has to stay on the school honor roll, as well.

Jacob Perry, meanwhile, reaches out to potential sponsors and is busy on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, posting updates, photos and videos. He’s quick to thank the owners of his cars, his sponsors and Jeff’s Custom Grafix of Plainfield, who designed the Warrior car.

He said the thrill and the speed of racing is like no other sport.

“You can’t predict what will happen, what moves people will make. You can go from best to worst in one corner,” Jacob Perry said, adding that as he drives more and more, the speed of what is happening begins to slow down for him.

j.wojtas@theday.com

Jacob Perry, 15, of  Pawcatuck, rounds turn three in his SK Modified division car at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl in Waterford on Thursday, August 23, 2017. Perry participates and raises money for the Cancer Warrior organization.   (Tim Martin/The Day)
Jacob Perry, 15, of Pawcatuck, rounds turn three in his SK Modified division car at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl in Waterford on Thursday, August 23, 2017. Perry participates and raises money for the Cancer Warrior organization. (Tim Martin/The Day)
Jesse Hunt, left, 15, of Ledyard, assists Jacob Perry, right, 15, of  Pawcatuck,  fasten his helmet as Perry prepares to enter the track  to test his SK Modified division car at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl in Waterford on Thursday, August 23, 2017.  (Tim Martin/The Day)
Jesse Hunt, left, 15, of Ledyard, assists Jacob Perry, right, 15, of Pawcatuck, fasten his helmet as Perry prepares to enter the track to test his SK Modified division car at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl in Waterford on Thursday, August 23, 2017. (Tim Martin/The Day)

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