About a year ago, Amanda Lutz was watching a NASCAR race on television and caught a glimpse of a sticker on one of the cars that said "FUEL," attached to an orange ribbon.
"It caught my eye because you don't normally see an orange ribbon, which is for leukemia," Amanda said.
She and her husband, Adam, are familiar with leukemia because their daughter, Adalyn, just finished her treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia in May. Her chemotherapy port was removed in June, and she has started preschool at the Village Day School in Bloomville.
Although Adalyn remains susceptible to infections, she is doing well.
"The first year after treatment is the biggest risk for relapse, so we'll see if what we've done works. She is happy and enjoying everything. She still has monthly appointments, monthly lab draws and exams. She's improving. Her blood counts still aren't normal, but it will take awhile to get them back up."
Out of curiosity, Amanda went online and discovered an organization called Bryson's FUEL, which stands for "Families United to Eliminate Leukemia." Based in North Carolina, the organization is named for Bryson, a 5-year-old in treatment for ALL leukemia.
Amanda and Heather Smith, Bryson's mother, started corresponding on a regular basis.
Bryson had been diagnosed with ALL in June 2011, and she and her husband, Jim, established FUEL shortly after that to raise awareness of the disease and offer support to other families with children who have cancer. Bryson continues his treatment at Blume/Hemby Children's Hospital in Charlotte, N.C.
Jim also is in the business of creating custom racing cars, so the two families had racing and ALL in common.
In September, the Smiths invited the Lutzes to come to The Charlotte Motor Speedway for the NASCAR Nationwide race Oct. 12.
Heather said a race car driver, Robert Richardson, he had met Bryson and learned about ALL. Earlier this year, Richardson called Heather to tell her his plans for a FUEL race car. His idea was to decorate the vehicle with the handprints of children with ALL.
"Heather sent me an email and said, 'You just have to come. I want you guys here.' I'm not really one to up and do things, but we went," Amanda said.
Adam was not able to make the trip, but Adalyn, Amanda and her parents, Jan and Richard Valentine, went along.
Upon meeting Bryson and his family, they quickly formed a friendship.
Adalyn chose purple paint for her handprint and placed it on one side of the driver's door, opposite Bryson's print. Some of the prints belonged to deceased children or to parents who substituted their own handprints as a memorial for the child.
"There's a lot of kids that obviously couldn't be there because they're around the country, so Heather invited everybody to have their kids put their handprints on paper and send them in," Amanda said. "They had just a pile of papers with handprints on them. Heather and some friends and Robert and his crew all sat down on the floor and cut out the handprints and traced them on the car."
On race day at the track, both families were treated like celebrities with full access to the pit.
Richardson also invited Adalyn and Bryson to come onstage with him for driver introductions. They were to represent the hundreds of other children whose handprints were on the car but who could not be there.
The pair also rode with Richardson for the parade of cars prior to the race.
Richardson received a special FUEL pendant to put in the car. During the race, the Smiths, Valentines and Lutzes were able to sit atop the pit box to view the race.
"I don't know that I'll ever meet somebody as kind as he was," Amanda said of Richardson.
Amanda and Adalyn came home with hundreds of photos and exciting memories of their visit to the race track.
Amanda said she has been a racing fan since she was a child. Her uncle owns Kear's Speed Shop, and she remembers going to Florida every year for Speed Week.
"That's how it all got started. I actually got teased about it quite a bit when I was younger," she said.
Now, she has passed on her love of racing to Adalyn, who has been known to march around the house waving a flag saying "Gentlemen, start your engines!"
Adalyn is a Jeff Gordon fan.
The Lutzes also have made valuable connections with the Smiths and FUEL. Amanda said FUEL donations from a certain area are directed back to families in that area in need of assistance.
For more information, visit www.brysonsfuel.org.