More MS news articles for Oct 2001

Racer dashes way around despite MS

October 20, 2001

In February 1988, Kelly Sutton's life and career ambition came to a screeching halt.

Sutton and her father were building her first race car as she prepared to embark upon her lifelong dream of driving professionally. She had driven go-karts competitively but had longed to race at Daytona and you can't do that unless you're in a car.

The problem was, she couldn't figure out what was causing the numbness that ran along the right side of her body. A spinal tap confirmed it to be multiple sclerosis, a disease that decreases nerve function in the spinal cord and brain. Sutton's thoughts immediately switched from Late Models to wheelchairs, from earning pole positions to never leaving her bed. At 16 Sutton thought her life was over.

"It was devastating," Sutton said. "The first thing you think of is a wheelchair. Basically that was due to my ignorance. I didn't know much about MS. One of our friends had MS and was bedridden. I thought I was going to be like her."

For three years Sutton put racing in the backseat and concentrated on moving on with her life. When she was 19, her father asked if she still wanted to drive. He said he wanted to give her the dream of driving a race car before "anything happened" to her.

In 1992 she ran her first season, driving mini stocks at Old Dominion Speedway in Manassas, Va. She moved up through the Allison National Legacy Series and a truck series to the Goody's Dash Series, a NASCAR touring division. The circuit makes its annual stop tonight at USA International Speedway in Lakeland for the Discount Auto Parts 150.

"I didn't think it was going to be possible," Sutton said of driving professionally.

In her two years of limited action on the Dash Series, Sutton has finished in the top 10 once in seven races, realized her dream of driving at Daytona in February -- "anything that happens after that is icing on the cake," she said -- and become a mouthpiece for information about multiple sclerosis, not to mention an example of how it can be overcome.

Her car is sponsored by Copaxone, a drug used to help reduce the frequency of relapses in MS sufferers. She uses it daily, augmenting it with exercise, vitamins and a regimented diet.

"I'm racing because I love to race. It's a passion of mine. It's what I've wanted to do since I was 5," Sutton said. "Because of that I'm in a position to help give MS a face. So I am racing for people who have MS. I try to live the most normal life I can. It's not like every day I wake up and tell myself I have MS."

NOTE: For tickets to tonight's Discount Auto Parts 150, call (800) 964-7223. USA International Speedway is at 3401 Old Polk City Road in Lakeland.

© Copyright 2001 St. Petersburg Times