HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Before NASCAR drivers start their engines on Saturday at the ToyotaCare 250, 8News sat down with Viola Barnes — a DMV employee and patient awaiting a kidney transplant who will play a special role in the race.
On Saturday, April 1, dozens of race cars will take to the Richmond Raceway track, but one of them may just stand out from the rest. NASCAR driver Joey Gase will be driving car #35, which with the help of Donate Life Virginia will feature Barnes’ face and handprints.
Seventeen years ago, Barnes’ family took her to Chippenham Hospital after she collapsed in front of her children. At the hospital, Barnes received life-changing news — a doctor diagnosed her with chronic kidney disease.
“He says ‘you have less than 20% function,’” Barnes said. “That’s when it hits me. I was like ‘what?’ Yeah, it’s that serious.”
After she received the diagnosis, Barnes says she stayed on top of her health hoping the diagnosis wouldn’t get worse.
In 2022, when Barnes became one of more than 100,000 people in the United States waiting for an organ transplant. She says it has been a long journey that often makes her want to throw in the towel.
Years after her diagnosis, Barnes says that making an appearance on a NASCAR race is something she’ll never forget.
“I got to put my picture on the race car, my hand. I met a NASCAR driver. I mean, who does that?” Barnes said.
As excited as Barnes is to be included in NASCAR in such a visible way, she is even more enthusiastic about how car #35 is going to amplify the need for more organ donors. She hopes the sight of this car from the stands will be able to start a conversation that encourages people to become organ donors and potentially save lives.
“It’s a no brainer, for us to take care of each other in any way that we can,” Barnes said.