By Stephanie Trotter
Project HOPE supporters are revving their engines, as this Saturday’s Evening of HOPE approaches. The annual gala is the Project HOPE Foundation’s largest fundraiser, which also brings attention to autism, and the lifespan of local services available for those with the disorder, and their families. Front and center at this year’s gala auction – the shiny black hood of Colby Howard’s Pro Late Model Ford, featuring the Project HOPE logo. The exceptional collaboration of a racecar driver and the 22-year non-profit organization is generating cheers far beyond victory lane.
Howard just won the “Show Me the Money 100” Pro Late Model race at the Montgomery Motor Speedway, with the Project HOPE sun logo blazing across the finish line. “It was awesome! It was just amazing,” shares Foundation Board Chairman Joe Vaughn, whose $20,000 donation secured the top spot on Howard’s car. “We immediately had people calling from all different states because they saw the logo. Our wildest dreams imagined, would be to grab the national spotlight, and make people aware of autism all across the United States.”
Vaughn has been watching Howard’s career pick up speed for years. Last year, the NASCAR fan secured a small, 12” x 12” spot on Colby’s car for his concrete company. But at the start of the new season, the autism advocate paid for the hood and quarter panel to educate. He plans to keep the Project HOPE sun shining on #81 for months to come, by making an additional $20,000-$30,000 donation.
“Sometimes you would think that autism and racing would be very dissimilar,” explains Foundation Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director Lisa Lane. “Our kids almost always have sound sensitivities, and nothing is louder than the powerful motors of these beautiful cars. But there are similarities. One of the defining characteristics of autism is repetition, repetitious behaviors, and attention to detail.”
Teen racing phenom Colby “The Kid” Howard knows a thing or two about repetitious behaviors and attention to detail, as he circles the track dozens of times at 110 miles per hour. The Hillcrest High junior is a third-generation stock car driver, and South Carolina’s 2017 NASCAR Rookie of the Year. The 17-year-old is competing with the Anthony Campi Racing team, as he gains traction and moves up the NASCAR circuit.
This Friday, the speed demon will race at Pensacola’s 5 Flags Speedway, where he hopes to watch the Project HOPE sun rise from under the checkered flag again. Saturday, he’ll head back to Greenville to attend the gala… and prom. The teen easily shifts gears between racing and school activities.
Over spring break, the student met with Project HOPE students, and young adults, on the spectrum at the Foundation’s Woodruff campus. Howard helped everyone sign the hood that will be auctioned off this Saturday. “Seeing how the kids were smiling sitting in the car, and messing with the switches, was cool,” the racer divulges. “This is definitely not like my other corporate sponsors. We’re with a really good team and hoping for a lot of success this season, and seeing how Project HOPE is involved with my racing, it’s pretty cool.”
Lane stood nearby, admiring the newfound friendships and form of awareness. “What we want for this crowd is exactly what Colby has,” she reveals. “We want them to have a passion and pursue it. What a great example, to see a 17-year-old who is able to follow his dream, and through our services, these kids get to discover what is important to them, and how we can help them get there.”
The Project HOPE Foundation Gala is this Saturday, April 27th, at the Greenville Convention Center. For more information, visit www.projecthopesc.org.