VINTON–William Byrd High School Principal Dr. Richard Turner turned his bout with Stage 3 colon cancer from a negative to a positive for himself, his school, the community, and beyond.
Well known for his enthusiasm for racing, Virginia Tech, James Madison University, ham radio, and Relay for Life, Turner combined most of those interests into one project recently—helping to develop a partnership with BK Racing, the American Cancer Society, and Mystik Lubricants for sponsorship of a race car at the Martinsville STP 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup race on March 29. Their joint purpose was to increase public awareness of cancer and the effects of early diagnosis on survival rates.
Turner has had a lifelong fascination for and involvement with racing. He describes himself as “a big race fan as a child” and remembers visiting the Wood brothers’ shop in Stuart. Leonard and Glen Wood are recognized as the oldest active team in NASCAR. He went on to follow racing while he was in college at Virginia Tech.
As an adult, he and his brother Jeff decided to take up go-kart racing. He was very competitive in racing alcohol-fueled karts which can travel at speeds up to 100 mph. His racing career ended in 2003 when he was injured in a wreck which fractured his pelvis and ribs, and resulted in a concussion.
At one point, after Turner became principal at WBHS in 1999, William Byrd sponsored a car which raced at Motor Mile Speedway, owned by Roger Parrish Sr. and driven by Roger Parrish Jr. The car was used both as a marketing tool to sell season sports passes for WBHS and as a morale booster for the school as the horn was sounded whenever a touchdown was scored at home games. It circled the track at half time and appeared in local parades.
His involvement with James Madison University came about when his children were students at there. He and his wife Tina, who is the assistant principal at Hidden Valley High School, joined the JMU Parents Council, eventually becoming the Chairs.
His involvement with Relay for Life resulted when Turner was diagnosed in December 2007 with colon cancer at the young age of 47. Concerned with health issues he was experiencing he scheduled a doctor’s appointment and a tumor was detected.
He underwent six months of treatments, with chemotherapy every other week. He was able to keep working during his treatments although he “didn’t feel particularly well” and was “functioning at a low energy level,” to say the least.
Having survived cancer, he felt so blessed and thankful that he began working with Relay for Life in order “to give back.” He was more or less recruited by Vinton Relay Chairs Don and Carolyn Williams. His involvement with Relay led to the school’s involvement. Now the school has several teams who participate in the fundraising each year for the Vinton Relay, including the JROTC cadets and students in the Service Learning Leadership Class. And of course, the school is well-known for its Battle at Byrd cheerleading competition Cheer 4 a Cure team, which donated over $11,000 to Relay for Life this year. In 2010 Turner was named the Relay for Life Principal of the Year in the region.
When Roanoke School Superintendent Dr. Lorraine Lange announced at a principals’ meeting that she needed a representative to the ACS Leadership Council, he stepped up to serve. The council is deeply involved with all of the ACS programs and events in the area such as the Relays, running two retail stores, arranging rides for treatments for cancer patients, the Look Good Feel Good program, and the Cure by Design event at the Hotel Roanoke, to name a few. He will become the community chair of the council next year.
His interests in racing, Relay, and JMU coalesced when Sherry King, Director of Parent Relations at JMU, introduced the Turners to Ron Devine, who owns BK Racing and was a member of the governing Board of Visitors at JMU.
Their mutual interest in racing led to the development of a friendship which eventually led to the partnership with the American Cancer Society at the Martinsville race in March.
Devine invited Dr. Turner to the races where he now “hangs out in the pit area,” with BK Racing.
Turner was originally a Marketing education major and has turned his talents to helping with guests and sponsors at the racetrack and giving tours. He said he gets to “pick up lug nuts,” and occasionally assists with pit stops during the race. At Martinsville, he got to handle the flag which directs the driver on pit road and to “grab a tire” during a pit stop.
The idea soon came about for BK Racing to partner with the American Cancer Society to raise public awareness about cancer, to use the racing venue to get out the message that cancer affects everyone.
Turner said Devine was immediately “on board” with the idea. Since this was a first for the ACS, vetting the concept took quite a while. Recruiting sponsors was a daunting challenge necessary for the plan to come to fruition, and finding just the right sponsors was important to the ACS.
Turner was able to be instrumental in bringing together the three key components—a race team, the American Cancer Society, and a corporate sponsor.
The stars aligned with everything falling into place during March, which is Colon Cancer Awareness Month with BK Racing’s driver J. J. Yeley “sporting the ACS logo around the track.”
Now that the race is over, Public Service Announcements are appearing on WDBJ 7 encouraging the public to visit their doctors for check-ups, especially colonoscopies, with Yeley as the spokesperson.
Yeley made a name for himself as the youngest driver ever to qualify for the Indianapolis 500. His career as a NASCAR Sprint Cup driver began in 2006. He currently competes in the series driving the No. 23 Toyota Camry for BK Racing. Jeb Burton and Matt DiBenedetto also drive for BK Racing. Burton’s mother has been a victim of breast cancer.
Yeley said he is thrilled to be able to do what he loves for a living. He has displayed a strong commitment to giving back and is involved with many charities, including St. Jude’s Research Hospital and the VCU Massie Cancer Research Center in Richmond.
As for a corporate sponsor, Mystik Lubricants stepped up to fill that role at the Martinsville race. Their company produces special lubricants for personal watercraft, snowmobile, golf carts, outboard and ATV’s, and industrial equipment.
Dr. Turner will be one of the speakers in the opening ceremony at the Vinton Relay for Life which will be held in the stadium at WBHS on May 1. The Martinsville Speedway will continue its contribution to cancer awareness as the site of the Martinsville and Henry County Relay for Life event on June 12.
Turner hopes that other opportunities will arise to continue the relationship between BK Racing and the American Cancer Society, to keep cancer awareness in the forefront of public attention. The teams would welcome other corporate sponsors to keep the ACS logo on the racecar.
More information is available on this week’s Vinton Relay for Life on their Facebook page. The activities get underway at 5:30 p.m. with a Flag Retirement Ceremony by the WBHS Air Force JROTC at 6:00.