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Local celebrities and politicians go-kart race for charity

Montville — When one thinks of state legislators getting competitive, it might typically be in the context of elections. But Wednesday night, they joined other local celebrities and some seasoned racers to don helmets for competitive go-kart racing — all to raise money for local charities.

Local radio host Lee Elci held the Thanks4Giving Magna-Karta Racing Championship — with the tagline "Speed for need" — at SuperCharged, in which up to 40 people who made a $500 donation could drive. But some donated more and more people donated, and the GoFundMe page has raised more than $23,000.

The drivers got racer names, which meant the booming announcement for the first heat included, "Racing at spot number five, Paul 'Clambake' Formicaaaaa!" (State Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, owns Flanders Fish Market.)

The winner was college sophomore Nick "Nicky Big Boy" Luther, whose father, John "Lex Luthor" Luther of Luther Fence in Groton, came in third. The younger Luther said his father used to race at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl, and the two come to SuperCharged a lot. In second place was Justin "Two Treads" Rando, a professional motocross racer.

Among the other participants were Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton; Rep. Holly Cheeseman, R-East Lyme; Rep. Greg Howard, R-Stonington; 2018 gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski; No Tolls CT founder Patrick Sasser; East Lyme police Chief Mike Finkelstein; former New London police Chief Peter Reichard; former Mohegan Sun CEO Mitchell Etess; Greater Mystic Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Bruce Flax; and The Day reporter Rick Koster.

Spectators observed from the railing of the second-floor bridge overlooking the track. Bob and Amy Stefanowski's daughters even made signs.

Here's how it worked: Each participant picked a charity, with the money being split such that the charities picked by the fastest drivers would get the most money. There were four heats, with the top five drivers from each advancing.

Both Luthers selected Sacred Heart School and Rando went with the Brian Dagle Foundation, so those organizations will get a lot of the money. Some of the other charities picked include Wings of Freedom Animal Rescue, Connecticut Burns Care Foundation, Safe Futures, Pawcatuck Neighborhood Center, Waterford Country School, and Veterans Equine Therapeutic Services.

Rep. Irene Haines, R-East Haddam, and Amy Stefanowski teamed up to each pick the New London Homeless Hospitality Center, "to double up our winnings," Haines said, noting it's going to get cold out soon.

"It's like radical generosity, we call it," said Annah Perch, development manager of the Homeless Hospitality Center, who — along with Haines, Stefanowski and others — was wearing a bright orange shirt highlighting the center. "It's amazing the creativity people come up with."

She said especially during the coronavirus pandemic, the center needs the money more than ever, and she was blown away by all the people that came out.

Haines noted she had never go-karted before, and Rep. Joe de la Cruz, D-Groton, said the same thing, though he joked before his race that he was practicing how to hold a trophy. He came in second out of nine in his heat, behind Elci.

De la Cruz was the only Democratic elected official to participate, though Elci was quick to point out he had asked others. "I understand Ned's busy," he said of Gov. Ned Lamont.

Elci said he tries to do something for the community every year. "I thought it might be fun to do something for charity that's not necessarily just people asking for money," he said. "People have a competitive spirit, so a lot of folks who kind of heard me talking about it on the radio offered to pony up money to be a part of it."

e.moser@theday.com

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