Trumbull student wins race car design contest

Blake Lillicraf, a student at Madison Middle School has won the Ford Customer Service Division’s “Our Everyday Heroes” Race Car Design Contest, through Type 1 Diabetes research and advocacy organization, JDRF.

The eighth grade student’s winning car design will be displayed on a Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Shelby Mustang Funny Car, which can race at speeds faster than 300 miles per hour. He attended the Route 66 NHRA Nationals, near Chicago recently, to see his design.

Blake is newly diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes (T1D), but you’d never know from his composure, according to JDRF.

The 13-year-old multiple-sport athlete was diagnosed with T1D in November of last year. It was a shock for the family, but fully explained Blake’s symptoms — he constantly drank water yet was always thirsty and lost weight. Then he told his mother, Dianne Lillicraf, that he had a hard time recognizing his friends from across the room — an easy distance that had never challenged him before.

“Fortunately, he didn’t have to be hospitalized,” Dianne  Lillicraf said. “And from the very beginning he took it upon himself to take his insulin. We remind him to test, but other than that, he took charge. We’re kind of blessed that way – he was old enough to do that.”

Blake, an eighth-grader has always been athletic. While he started with baseball, he now plays lacrosse, runs, and snowboards. He also likes to draw.

“He’s done some work for a few teachers at school, helping them with posters and things like that,” Lillicraf said.

Blake leaned on his creative talent and networking abilities to propel himself to the finals in the race car design contest for JDRF, where he was chosen as the winner.

Blake, who during the contest raised $6,550 to support T1D research through JDRF, attended the Route 66 NHRA Nationals at Route 66 Raceway near Chicago to see the design he created on the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Shelby Mustang Funny Car, driven by Bob Tasca.

Children with T1D from around the nation competed in this year’s contest, and with the help of Ford dealerships and donations from employees, raised $57,127 for T1D research.

“The results of the contest this year were just astounding,” said Mary Lou Quesnell, director of marketing for Ford Customer Service Division. “We couldn’t be happier with the results. To all of the kids, Ford dealers and employees, and friends and families of the contestants, thank you.”

JDRF is the largest charitable supporter of T1D research. Ford Motor Company has donated $42 million to JDRF, more than $3 million annually for the past 10 years. Ford joined the effort in 2008 and has raised approximately $300,000 with the race car contest alone.

“It has been another remarkable year of progress and fundraising with the support of Ford Customer Service Division through the design contest,” said Margo K. Lucero, JDRF’s vice president of corporate development. “We are grateful for the amazing efforts of this year’s talented young contestants, and for Ford’s valued and continued support of JDRF and of all people living with type 1 diabetes.”

“We were overwhelmed,” said Blake’s mother of winning the contest. “First, we were overwhelmed with the amount of donations that came in. We reached out to everyone we knew not expecting the outcome to be this great. It couldn’t happen at a better time. I think diabetes quietly takes a toll, especially for a 13-year-old boy.”

The Lillicraf family has been watching NHRA race broadcasts on ESPN2 to “study up” on what they’re about to see — the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Shelby Mustang Funny Car that Blake designed races at speeds faster than 300 mph.

“I can’t wait to get over there,” said Blake, before the event. “I’m just going to be really shocked to see cars going that fast. I can’t wait to see Bob (Tasca).”

This weekend’s race will be televised from 11 p.m. to midnight ET on Saturday, June 29, and 9 p.m. to midnight on Sunday, June 30, on ESPN2.

Bob Tasca, now in his sixth season behind the wheel of the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Funny Car, always looks forward to having the contest winner at the track.

“The strength of these kids always amazes me,” Tasca said. “I have to have a lot of control with what I do, making sure I do everything right in my race car. But these kids have so much to handle in their day-to-day lives. It’s astounding how much they do to manage their type 1 diabetes at such young ages. I have a lot of respect for these kids and their families. We’re happy to help JDRF raise money for important research.”

In T1D, the body’s pancreas stops producing enough insulin, a hormone that is needed to turn food into energy. People with T1D must monitor their blood sugar levels and administer insulin via shots or an insulin pump, multiple times every day. Even with vigilant management, there is still a risk of T1D complications such as heart attack, stroke, blindness, and amputation. JDRF is the largest charitable funder of research toward preventing, better treating, and eventually curing T1D.

For the first time, fans can text to make donations to JDRF. Money raised will be added to Blake’s fundraising total. Just text “JDRF” to 20222 once, anytime between now and August 16, 2013. A one-time donation of $10 will be added to your mobile phone bill or deducted from your prepaid balance.

The donor must be age 18+ and all donations must be authorized by the account holder (e.g. parents). By texting “YES”, the user agrees to the terms and conditions. All charges are billed by and payable to your mobile service provider. Service is available on most carriers.