Thanks to Rick Hendrick, owner of four NASCAR Sprint Cup teams, about 150 or so children were saved last month in earthquake-plagued Haiti.
It was with the help of Lisa Hanenburg of Munster, Ind., says Hendrick, owner of several car dealerships across the country.
Even Hanenburg was having a hard time believing what happened when, in a moment of desperation, she called Hendrick Motorsports in Harrisburg, N.C. She wanted to know if Hendrick could help in getting food and much needed supplies to an orphanage in Source Matelas, not far from Port-au-Prince in Haiti. The children were cut off and starving after the Jan. 12 earthquake that ravaged Haiti.
“I have a friend who had been working to adopt one of the children and we were getting text messages from him that they were desperate and hadn’t eaten in days,” Hanenburg told Hendrick. She’s part of a group that supports the orphanage.
“I called the government, the Salvation Army and the Red Cross and they couldn’t do anything,” said Hanenburg. “Then I heard Mr. Hendrick was helping with the Haiti situation, so I called. Literally, within 18 hours, food was on the ground at the orphanage. It was miraculous.”
That act of kindness is one of several examples of how the NASCAR community became a key player in the early stages of the international relief effort.
Hendrick’s company was the first to act, offering to partner with Missionary Flights Int’l to get emergency personnel into and out of Haiti for nearly two weeks.
It wasn’t long after Hendrick became involved that the racing teams of Joe Gibbs and Michael Waltrip followed, offering their planes for all or part of the relief effort.
Then, the NASCAR Foundation gave $250,000 for Haitian relief. Later, NASCAR partnered with Speed, which has headquarters in Charlotte, N.C., for a “NASCAR Haiti Relief Special,” encouraging fans to give to the American Red Cross.
Drivers including Jimmie Johnson also helped, sending thousands of pieces of clothing.
There are about 30 foundations affiliated with NASCAR participants, most of them focused on children.
Aircraft supplied by Hendrick and other race teams were the main way of getting emergency personnel into Haiti when airlines weren’t servicing the country. In all, jets operated by NASCAR racers took 2,000 people in and out of Haiti.
“Yes, it has changed my perception of NASCAR,” said Harold Martin, disaster relief coordinator for Missionary Flights Int’l. “It’s the first time I’ve dealt with them. They were fantastic.”
“They (the orphans) surely would be dead were it not for Mr. Hendrick,” said Hanenburg. “Not only the children, but the entire town benefited from the food. They saved lives.”
Hendrick said the effort was not planned from the start but mushroomed into a gigantic task.
Hendrick estimates the 27 round trips to Haiti cost more than $200,000, but he’s still committed to helping Haiti between races.
“We’re going to do as much as we can as long as we can,” said Hendrick.
The NASCAR community always has been known for taking care of its own, earning the reputation of being “family.”
Now it has expanded its philanthropic effort to an international scope.