Tyler Nelson, an Olathe South senior and race car driver, has seen plenty of tough times in his 17 years.
Originally from North Carolina, he and his sister, Paige, were rescued from a broken home and brought to live in the Kansas City area by their grandmother Nancy Robison.
Robison insisted the siblings find an activity they liked. Paige chose cheerleading and gymnastics.
Tyler chose auto racing. He started in go-kart racing with the help of a mentor, Roger Corbet, and eventually worked his way to micro-Sprint and full size Midget cars.
Tyler was racing at Valley Speedway in Grain Valley on the May 2012 night that fellow racer Jeff Osborn died in a crash.
“That night he lost his life in a full-size Sprint car, that (night) was the first race I won. I decided to donate my purse (to the Osborn family),” Nelson said.
That’s also when Nelson decided to use racing to help people in need, the way others have helped him. A member of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Kansas City, Nelson started a nonprofit charity — KC Kids on Track.
Nelson’s latest project is raising money for a new Trac-Fab wheelchair for Jauslyn Blakely, a 12-year-old Gladstone girl who suffers from cerebral palsy and epilepsy.
Nelson will be racing in Friday’s season-opening event at Atchison County Raceway in Atchison, Kan. He will donate any winnings, and other drivers will be “passing the helmet” and taking donations throughout the night.
A motorized wheelchair would greatly benefit Blakely, and she’s already thought about the first thing she’ll do when she gets it.
“I’d probably go ride around in it and go to the creek at Happy Rock (Park),” Blakely said.
Andy Watkins, Blakely’s father, started the fundraising effort by posting fliers in Northland businesses. Nelson first learned of their cause in December.
“I started to talk to the guys about my racing, and one thing led to another,” Nelson said.
Nelson raced at the Tulsa Shootout later in December and started his fundraising efforts there. He plans to keep at it until Blakely has her new wheelchair.
“This chair would give her a lot more freedom and mobility. Summer’s coming and the kids like to run around. When they take off, she gets left behind,” Watkins said. “She’s waiting for help to get back into the action. It’d give a 12-year-old kid who isn’t capable of going everywhere the ability to go everywhere.”
Nelson could earn $750 with a win Friday night. With or without a victory, he’s hoping to raise more than $1,000.
“I want to take what happened to me and use it as a learning experience. I’ve gotten through it and made it a positive in my life. You don’t have to be defined by your childhood or where you come from,” Nelson said. “You can make it into something more. Holding onto your dreams, that’s what gets you through the tough times.”
Blakely dreams of a wheelchair that can negotiate any terrain. Her current chair recently got stuck on a curb, and stayed there until a police officer helped to free it.
“I wouldn’t have to worry about that. The new chair will just go over it,” Blakely said. “I could go on the snow and build a snowman if I wanted.”