OSKALOOSA — Most races are held at night at the Southern Iowa Speedway.
Early in the morning of Saturday, Aug. 18, hundreds of racing fans staked out their seats in the grandstand to watch a very special driver compete in his first race on the dirt track.
Caleb Hammond, 11, has been battling leukemia and received a bone marrow transplant earlier in the year. His cancer treatments have become ineffective and he and his family decided to cease them.
Caleb had no idea he was going to be driving a race car when he first came to the track Saturday. Before long, he got a rundown of the procedure and safety, was clad in racing gear and took his seat in the car.
John Hammond, Caleb's dad, said the family was feeling excited about the day.
"Pretty awesome," he said. "A goal of his was to be able to drive a race car when he got older. It's like a dream come true."
The support from the community has been awesome, too, Hammond said.
"Never would have dreamed it would have been this big," he said, "or thoughtful."
In the seat of the 46-7 hobby stock car next to Caleb sat 12-year-old racer Jacob Foster, with KWC Racing. Jacob was with Caleb for every second on the track and shared his expertise.
It was an authentic race day experience for Caleb, including a prayer and invocation from Central United Methodist Church Pastor Bruce Wittern, a rendition of the national anthem, and cheers from the grandstand.
Before hitting the track, Caleb said he has never driven a stick shift before. That's no problem, said Jacob's father and KWC Racing President Jared Foster, who coordinated the event.
With Jacob's tutelage, Caleb sped around the track and won his heat, cementing his place at the front of the pack for the feature race.
When preparing for the event, Foster said Oskaloosa's emergency services were second to none and were eager to help, along with other community entities.
"All these people in your community have rallied around this and made planning just perfectly easy," he said. "And I started making phone calls Sunday night, next thing I know, we got in touch with the promoter, and the fair board has been nothing but accommodating. Everybody in your community has just shown KCW a whole mess of love for this kid."
Caleb engaged in some pre-race banter with other drivers, and also said he did spin out in one corner.
"I guess I was going a little too fast and spun out," he said.
Tonia Stevens, in the 3T car, let Caleb know she wasn't going to go easy on him.
"I'm gonna be right outside you," she said, "bumping you and giving you all I've got!"
For the featured race, the cars got into their positions, ready to give Caleb a run for the money. The crowd cheered as Caleb "Super Strong" Hammond was announced.
As promised, Stevens kept tight to the 46-7 car, but Caleb claimed the winning spot, even with spinning out once more near the northeast corner of the track.
United States Racing Association officials Laura and Darlo Mulder guided and supported Caleb throughout the event.
Laura and Darlo left home at 2 a.m. and drove for five hours to get to the Southern Iowa Speedway. They had that five-hour drive back home, plus another hour and a half to one of their regular tracks and a race to work Saturday night.
The race was amazing, Laura said.
"Just to see the smile on his face – and not only Caleb, but his family," she said. "Just the memories that they can treasure. And all these pictures and all the videos, they'll be able to hear Caleb. Lasting memories of a precious child."
Manging editor Angie Holland can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @OskyAngie.