Women and kids wrapped in scarves and jackets worked to stave off the chilly morning at the track.
Pink gear abounded as 30 breast cancer survivors and members of their families gathered in mid-October at Concord Speedway in South Concord, NC, waiting for a chance to hop into a Ford Fusion on the track. They weren't going for speed, but rather fuel-mileage efficiency on the half-mile banked track.
But that didn't matter. For while getting into the car was exciting, this morning was as much about camaraderie and raising awareness as anything else.
Legions of NASCAR fans are loyal to Ford, which hosted the event, and to Trevor Bayne, who would guide these women through the nuances of controlling the car on the track.
But it was hard to escape the fact that the true heroes were swathed in pink.
"It's pretty special," Bayne, who offered advice on handling the banking after winning a fuel-efficiency challenge among Ford's NASCAR drivers, said about the event. "First of all, we're here with women who have fought off breast cancer so they're winning the battle, so that's pretty important. Second, we're at Concord Motorsports Park in Fords; this is my favorite racetrack and we're driving around in pink and purple Fusions supporting Warriors in Pink today and all the breast cancer survivors and people that are fighting the battle. So this is a really cool cause, and we're really proud to be part of it."
Ford Warriors in Pink, the Ford Motor Co. program that raises awareness and funds in the fight against breast cancer, brought cars for these survivors to drive and gave them the chance to gather once more. The winning survivor receives prize money of $10,000, with all contributions directly benefitting The Susan G. Komen for the Cure Charlotte Affiliate.
Charlotte's Nicole Bills, who annually competes in the Race for the Cure, jumped at the chance to participate.
"Any time an opportunity comes about to get together with fellow survivors and raise money for a good cause, I'm always up for that," she said.
Bills' cancer has been in remission since February 2011, and she says that events such as this one are about so much more than just raising awareness.
"I think it creates a great opportunity for socializing, sharing your story, maybe talking about things that folks who haven't had cancer can't understand," she said. "It just gives you a good network of people to just chat with and understand what they are going through, talk about what you may be potentially going through, and just sharing your experiences. It takes somebody who has been through it to really understand and sometimes make you feel better."
Betsy Rountree agrees. A Charlotte-area native, she was diagnosed on July 4, 2011, and finished her treatment this past August.
"The more I talk about it, the easier it gets," she said.
Her sister is on the board of the Komen foundation and asked her to attend. Defining herself as a "participator, not a spectator," she was ready to jump into a car and wheel it around the banked track.
She also saw the many ways Ford's event helps the cause.
"Not only does it promote awareness, it just brings the funds," she said. "Corporate sponsorship is unbelievable because that is where the big donations come from. And the bigger the donation, the more research we can do, so my daughter and generations don't have to go through what we went through, which is what we're striving to do. It also keeps me away from thinking about how we've had cancer. Makes something fun out it."
Megan King, director of sponsorship for the Komen foundation, said this event had been popular from the inception.
"This was all Ford, which is wonderful because they were able to do the Warriors in Pink car in Talladega, so it was nice that they were able to wrap these cars and bring them up for the survivors to drive," she said.
The organization let survivors know the chance to drive was open -- and within two hours had a waiting list.
King pointed out the impact of programs such as this one, held during National Breast Cancer Awareness month, on NASCAR fans.
"They help raise the awareness because they hit people's passion points," King said. "People are obviously paying attention to NASCAR, they love Trevor, they love Ford. So this just brings this to the forefront for everyone that breast cancer touches everyone in your day-to-day life, in those things that you love to do.
"Watching NASCAR, we hope to touch all of the men and women who are going to be touched by breast cancer, we want them to be aware, so this is just a really good way to get in front of them in a very natural way. They are already paying attention. We would love to see it year round."
As for Bayne, who drives for Wood Brothers Racing in the Sprint Cup ranks, this was a special opportunity to give back. Not only did he get to return to the track where he won a Hooters Pro Cup race in 2009, but he also had a chance to make a difference.
Drivers have high profiles and can have a heavy impact on their fans.
On this day, Bayne said, that impact had a specific cause in mind.
"There's so many things that Ford does that we're able to do as drivers that we have a platform and we have to use it. So when you have the attention of a big audience like we have in NASCAR, it's really cool when we get to use that for something to help better people's lives."