Sports car driver David Levine puts heart into his racing

06/05/2014 2:35 PM

06/05/2014 2:35 PM

Though he was born with a heart defect that required open-heart surgery at four months old, David Levine was allowed to participate in just about any activity he desired.

Except scuba diving.

Doctors didn’t say anything about auto racing being bad for the heart, so Levine has combined his passion for driving fast cars with an appreciation for his life-saving surgery.

Levine will bring his “Drive for the Heart” campaign to Kansas Speedway this weekend when he races the No. 78 Racers Edge Ford Mustang Boss 302R in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge GS class.

Levine, who just completed his junior year at Furman University, has partnered with the American Heart Association in promoting both awareness about heart disease and trying to raise $10,000 for research and cures for congenital heart defects.

“It’s my way of giving back to the American Heart Association for everything they’ve done,” Levine said. “Had the defect not been repaired, I would not be here today.”

Levine, who is from Chicago, was born with a hole between the bottom two chambers of his heart, and the valve grew through the hole, making the heart inefficient. The defect was discovered before birth in an ultrasound, and he said the hole generally repairs itself within a month or two after birth.

“But after four months, the hole had not repaired itself and when the doctors went in to close up the hole, they found the valve had gone through it, which is an extremely rare complication,” Levine said.

When he can find time between going to school and the race track, Levine visits children’s hospitals and tries to cheer up patients on behalf of the American Heart Association.

“I tell them that I was in the same boat they’re in now, and just because life is difficult now, it doesn’t mean it won’t get better in the near future,” Levine said. “Keep your head up because look what might happen. You might become a professional race car driver or a football player or whatever you want to be.

“I was four months old and obviously don’t remember it, but heart disease in one way, shape or form affects one in three people and it’s also the No. 1 killer of Americans and the No. 1 preventable killer of Americans. I know sometimes it’s difficult for a young child to understand that, but going to the hospitals and sharing my story really does help them realize we can do this.”

Levine became interested in racing as a 10-year-old when he and his father went to an indoor carting track on Sunday afternoon, “to have some fun, and I haven’t stopped since.”

Levine is in his second season in the Continental Tire series and finished eighth at Kansas Speedway last year. So far this season, Levine and teammate Lucas Bize, 19, have two top 10 finishes — eighth at Daytona and fifth at Sebring — in four races and are 10th in the season standings but just eight points out of fourth place.

Bize drives the opening segment and Levine is the closing driver for the youngest driver pairing in GS.

“It’s a lot of fun to be the closer, because the competition is really, really good,” Levine said. “To be able to go out there and fight with the best of the best for an hour-and-a-half, two hours, is so much fun.”

Levine, a communications major at Furman, would eventually like to move into NASCAR, and he competed in three ARCA races for Richard Petty Racing last year. But finding sponsorship has been difficult.

He also one day just might give scuba diving a try.

“The cardiologist has said I’m fine to scuba dive,” Levine said, “but the thoracic surgeon is afraid the pressure would be (harmful) to the repaired spot of my chest, not actually my heart.”

To reach Randy Covitz, call 816-234-4796 or send email to rcovitz@kcstar.com. Follow him at twitter.com/randycovitz.

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