RICHMOND, Va. — When NASCAR returns to the Richmond Raceway on Saturday, one car in the pack will be making history and honoring a Richmond man for generosity.
The car is the #51 Donate Life Virginia Ford Cup Car driven by Joey Gase. It will honor Christopher Woody Sr.
In the past, Donate Life Virginia has featured the photo and name of deceased organ donors on the race cars driven by Gase. This year, Woody will be the first living donor featured on the car.
“Gave me the opportunity I never would have thought in a million years," Woody said.
Back in 2013, Woody donated one of his kidneys to his younger cousin.
“He was born with kidney malfunction from birth and as he got older I didn’t want him to go on dialysis,” said Woody, noting that his living donor journey is not complete as he plans to donate 40% of his liver to a child in need.
“In a time like this, we all have to be one and helping has no limits, no race, no age.”
Woody also gives back to the community through his non-profit, “The Woody Foundation."
The foundation is rooted in empowering disenfranchised, inner-city youth in Richmond through "identifying approaches that work, strengthen their impact, and expand their reach so that more young people may benefit.”
“We do back-to-school drives, food giveaways. We do our Christmas toy drive with other organizations,” said Woody, who estimated his non-profit has helped over 5,000 families since it was founded in 2008.
“I’m really glad that they could choose Christopher,” said Gase. “It’s something that you don't normally see every day and you don’t normally think about it. You know, they think you can only be an organ donor if you’re passed away or deceased. But, that’s not the case at all anymore. Technology has gone so far, up and beyond now, you can be a living donor for your liver or your kidneys. You can do that and still live a completely normal life afterwards. So, it’s really awesome to see how far that really has come and shows how great of a person Christopher really is.”
Gase himself has a connection to organ donation through his mother. He said she died suddenly of a brain aneurysm when he was 18 and the family made the decision to donate her organs.
“We knew if she could no longer continue with her life, she’d want to do everything she could to help others,” said Gase.
The decision to donate helped 66 people. “Which was amazing to us. We thought it would maybe be two or three. We had no idea how big an impact that really could be.”
Gase said afterward the family looked at his mom’s driver’s license and realized she had already registered as an organ donor, but had never told the family. He is encouraging people to sign-up to become an organ donor and to have a discussion with their loved ones about their decision.
“So, if they’re ever in the same situation my family and I were in, it would be a much easier decision,” added Gase.
Woody added when you become an organ donor, you save two lives.
“The person you’re helping and it moves someone who’s on the registry up one,” said Woody.
Gase’s car will also feature the handprints of registered organ donors. In past years, people could put their hand prints on in-person, but the prints were submitted digitally because of COVID-19.
Donate Life Virginia, which manages the state's organ, eye, and tissue registry, said there are currently 2,400 Virginians waiting for a life-saving organ donation.
Roughly 60% of Virginians are registered as organ donors. If you would like to sign up or learn more go to DonateLifeVirginia.org.