The first Big Al Memorial Race was held Saturday, August 22, at Deming Speedway to honor a compassionate name in racing, Al Tschider.
"Big Al meant so much to everybody and they wanted to remember him in a very special way," said Thereassa Schlotfeldt, one of the memorial organizers. "He loved racing."
Tschider died on August 6 after battling colon cancer and a bad heart for years. During that time he created the Big Al Kids and Motorsports Foundation, an offshoot idea from his time volunteering for the Make a Wish Foundation, to spend his last years dedicated to giving children their dirt racing dreams.
On Saturday night one of those dreams came true for 8-year old Christopher Lindor, a boy affected by Spina Bifida, a birth defect that keeps him in a wheelchair and on a ventilator.
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Tschider worked for years to outfit a car Christopher could race using only hand controls.
The Seahawks-themed race car was made to carry Christopher’s ventilator and allow him to have complete control over the speed and direction of the vehicle using his hands. To the cheers of everyone at Deming Speedway, he cruised multiple times around the track and was presented with a winners trophy.
“It’s just priceless,” said Amy Lindor, Christopher’s mother. “Al just didn’t understand no. From the first moment we talked about putting Christopher in a Quarter Midget he said lets do it.”
In a three-step process, Tschider found ways to get the best safety gear on the market and customize it to Christopher’s Seahawks theme. Then, he found a vehicle halfway across the country and organized a way to bring it to Washington. Finally, Al brought together the racing community and pioneered a way to make dirt track racing a reality for a boy in a wheelchair who cannot breathe on his own.
“Al loves his kids just like we do,” Amy said. “They’re his kids.”
What inspired Tschider’s foundation was the first race-loving child he met through Make a Wish, Kelan Knowles, who was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a childhood cancer.
"(Tschider) was very excited to have a Make a Wish kid that he could spoil with a lot of sprint car stuff," said Kelan's father Justin Knowles.
Through Make a Wish, Kelan went to Disneyland but his real dream was to experience racing. So, with the creation of his own foundation, Tschider was able to make dirt racing dreams come true.
What is different about Big Al Kids and Motorsports is that kids stay in the program until they are either healthy or pass away, it's not a one-time experience.
"I'm going to have my surgery coming up on September 15," Kelan said. "They're hoping they will get the rest of my tumor out."
Looking back at everything Tschider did for him, Kelan will never forget getting to hold the flag and ride in the pace truck at the Knoxville Nationals.
The memorial began with an auction to support the foundation. Thousands of dollars were raised by those who knew or knew of Tschider through the purchase of donated memorabilia.
Cindy Tschider, Al's mother, said seeing everyone come out to support racing in memory of her son was overwhelming.
"He never ever would have been able to do this without the entire racing community," she said.
Those who worked with Al are now working to complete the jobs he started for the children enrolled, but the future of the foundation is uncertain in the wake of its founder’s death.