Maci Winebarger’s picture perfect smile

Pam Dudding-Burch
Contributing writer

Car and truck enthusiasts recently shined up their vehicles to the Wheels4Kids4Maci Benefit in the parking lot of the Salem Civic Center.

On Saturday, September 30, one could hear motors rush and tires spinning as the sun seemed to proudly shine off of the 7-layered lacquered vehicles that were being directed into their show spot for the ‘Cruise-In’ Benefit for Maci Winebarger.

Maci, who is now eleven years old, is confined to a wheelchair. She used to be a vibrant and active six year old who played sports, climbed trees and enjoyed life to its fullest until a tumor at the base of her brain stem was discovered. After the surgery, she became wheelchair bound.

Maci has been through a lot over the last several years. “She has had a major surgery, removing as much of the tumor as they could, spent three-and-a-half months recovering and in rehab, has endured around 35 total MRIs, 15 months of chemotherapy and another 13 months of chemo two years later,” Shari, her mother, explained. “She also has PT and OT at Carilion Pediatric Therapy and does therapeutic horse riding every week at Healing Strides.” Recent air flights to Texas have put another toll on the family’s finances.

Rick Dudding, a survivor of a brain injury from being hit by a drunk driver, has much compassion for others who suffer, especially children. “When I heard about little Maci, I knew I had to try to do something to help,” Dudding shared. “I know what the doctors put you through and how much it costs and how it drains everything you have, both emotionally and financially.”

Dudding called up many of his buddies who attend car shows and cruise-ins, and invited them to the Saturday’s benefit. Initially, it was scheduled for September 23 at Lowes in Salem, but that didn’t go through. He was able to contact the Salem Civic Center the following week. “It was just a little out of the way for people I guess,” Dudding said.

Among those who attended were Steve Nichols from Salem’s Hot Rod and Honey’s Car Club and he brought many of his friends with him. “We were happy to come and help raise funds for this little girl,” Nichols said. “We will do whatever we can to help in the future as well.”

Darren Frango and Jason Crawford helped guide the cars for parking and with the live auction and raffles. Betty Dudding tended to the BBQ stand during the day and baked many homemade goods to sell.

Dave’s Live Sounds provided great music that everyone seemed to like. Givens also assisted by being the ‘auctioneer’ at the live auction of donated items, which added to the amount of money raised at the concession and raffles. Givens encouraged people to ‘up’ the bids on items, as all the proceeds went to Maci.

“David does a great job!” someone shared. “If he says he’s going to DJ for you, you know you have one of the best.”

The parking lot had vehicles that roared with power and shinned with beauty. Yet, it seemed the most ‘sparkling’ part of the day was how everyone seemed to come together for a cause.

Jerry Myers from Botetourt County saw a flyer at his workplace at ITT Harris Corporation. “They had it on the bulletin board,” he said. “I started to go to the big one in Lexington, but knew that this was for a good cause, and so I came to it.”

Gary and Donna Thomas brought a ‘41 Ford ‘and a 34 Plymouth. “We love hot rods,” they shared.

“I’m a Chevy guy but three years ago, I ended up with this 302 Ford Mustang that has been ‘massaged’ quite a bit,” Wayland Meadows from Blue Ridge exclaimed. He got into street racing at a young age. “I learned that it’s just a way to empty your wallet really quick, but a lot of fun,” he said.

Sporting the 2015, Limited edition, silver and blue 4.6 liter, 300 hp Ford Fooze Mustang, was Kelly Balderston from Thaxton. “There were only 276 of them made even though they were initially going to manufacture about 3000,” she explained. Chip Foose, host of the TV show “Overhauling” co-designed the car. There is only one Mustang emblem on the whole car, which is on the steering wheel, making it extremely rare. It has Chip Foozes signature is on the dash. “I always wanted a Shelby, but when I got this one, I thought, ‘No I’m good,”’ Balderston said with a grin.

Randy Zelenak, another member of the Hot Rod and Honey’s group, was proud of his 2014 Dodge Charger RT by Richard Petty. “He has been my hero since I met him when I was about four years old,” he said. Saturday he came from a car show in North Carolina where he visited Petty’s garage. He also attended a VIP event on Friday night at Petty’s house and got to talk to him. “He was the nicest host as he came around thanking people for attending and talking with us.”

The 1967, 427 Impala Super Sport, owned by Joe and Millie Ryan holds lot of memories for them. “We got married in 1966 and we ordered the car new in 1967,” they shared. We drove it every day as it was our only car and even brought two of our daughter’s home from the hospital in it.” Since, they had it restored beautifully.

Others that came were; David Beeghly – 1972 Nova, Donnie Dent – 1951 Ford pickup and Blake – 1989 5 liter Ford Mustang. Nearly everyone inquired about Maci and sent their love and prayers to her.

Givens introduced Dudding at the end of the day as, “The heart of today and every Wheels4Kids”. Dudding shared that he truly appreciated everyone that showed up. “I think she will appreciate everything we done for her today,” he added. “I hope to see you in the future at the happy trails somewhere else!”

Nearly $800 was raised for Maci When the money was presented to her later, she smiled and said she was going to go to Mama Maria’s, her favorite place to eat when she has to travel back to Baltimore for tests and scans. “It wasn’t as much as I wanted for her, but I hope it helps,” an attendee shared. The funds would be used to help defer the transportation expenses. Dudding said that he couldn’t thank everyone enough for all they did to help make the benefit a success for Maci.

“For us as parents, the feelings of gratitude are simply inexplicable,” Shari shared. “There is love, caring and concern all rolled into one expressed by all that people do.”

Though Maci missed most of the cruise-in due to her brother getting married, she made it at the end to get her picture taken with the dragster. She plans on attending the Cruise-in on the October 21. Still, with her slow ability of speech, she added, “Thank you everyone!”

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