Diehard Fans

In memory of Ron Kumitch
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Jeff, Rob, and Ron - 79k image
Photo provided by Rob Kumitch

Article written by David Poole
The Charlotte Observer (11/2001)

It started with e-mail. "I don't even know if Jeff Gordon will be the one reading this," the message said, "but if he is not I hope that whoever is could find it in their heart to make sure he does."

It was written by Rob Kumitch, who lives in Edmonton, Alberta in Canada, and whose father, Ron, was a huge Jeff Gordon fan who'd never been to a NASCAR race. "The reason it's such a big deal, considering that he is only 41 and has the rest of his life to see a race, is exactly that," Rob wrote. "He doesn't have the rest of his life to see a race in person."

Ron Kumitch had cancer of the lymphoid system. The treatments had not gone well. The prognosis was not good. "We have planned a last vacation - hopefully not - for this November," Rob wrote, "and would like to attend a NASCAR race weekend." He wanted Gordon - or whoever read the e-mail - to get tickets for him and his father, mother and brother to attend the race either at Homestead-Miami Speedway or Atlanta Motor Speedway.

"We can pay you back when we get there," Rob wrote. "And if at all possible, is there a chance you may be able to meet my father on race weekend? …The reason I ask you to do this for me is because as a driver I'm sure you can do more for us than anyone else.

"I pray that you can help us. If you can't, then I wish you all the luck for the remainder of the season and in your hunt for the championship." I don't know how the message got to me, but all I did was move it along to Gordon's public relations staffers, the "handlers" that people sometimes complain about when they can't get 10 minutes of face time with the busiest young man in NASCAR. I also sent Al Levine, a writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, a copy so he could send it along to the folks at the track. Weeks later, after checking into a hotel room in Key Largo, Fla., there was another e-mail from Rob Kumitch. He'd talked to Kathy Boyd with the Jeff Gordon Foundation. The meeting with Gordon was all set. Had I had any luck with the tickets? No, but thank goodness Al Levine hadn't ignored the e-mail or let it get pushed out of his mind the way I did. He'd talked to Angela Claire, the Atlanta track's public relations manager, and gotten the ball rolling. She just needed some details, and with a few quick phone calls everything was handled. I sent Rob Kumitch an e-mail telling him things were set and that people would be calling him with the details.

Tuesday, I got another e-mail from Rob Kumitch. The subject line said, "Thank you." Great, a happy ending, I thought. Ron, Bev, Rob and Adam Kumitch got to Atlanta on Friday, Nov. 16, just before midnight. The next morning, they drove to the track and picked up their tickets and credentials. After watching a little bit of the morning practice, they went to the drivers' motorcoach lot and waited, along with three other groups who likely had very similar stories to tell. "All of a sudden we heard 'Jeff! Jeff!' being yelled by many fans - and then Jeff came around the corner," Rob Kumitch wrote. "I saw my father's face light up like never before. Even though Jeff had three other groups to meet with, he still took a good 20 minutes to meet with my father and then 20 minutes each for the other groups. He talked with my father and signed everything that we handed him." The Kumitch family went back to their hotel near the Atlanta airport, planning to come back for the race the next day. But Ron Kumitch was very weak on Sunday morning. Rob called the airlines and arranged for them all to leave that afternoon. Ron would have none of that.

"He told my brother and I that he wanted us to stay in Atlanta and watch the race," Rob wrote. "He felt that he could live the race through our eyes." That afternoon, along about the time Ron and Bev began their flight home, Gordon finished sixth in the NAPA 500 and clinched the 2001 Winston Cup championship. Rob and Adam flew home the next morning, ready to tell their dad all about it. They got home about 3:30 p.m.

Ron Kumitch died two hours later. "My father passed away in our house, and in our arms," Rob wrote, "right after hearing our stories of how much fun the race was and how well Jeff did."

Instead of flowers, the Kumitch family asked Ron's friends to make memorial donations to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, a group that arranges meetings between sick children and their favorite celebrities and sports stars.

"I must say thanks to all of the people at Atlanta Motor Speedway, the Jeff Gordon Foundation and everyone that helped us," Rob Kumitch wrote. "And to Jeff Gordon, too. With how busy his schedule is and how much he still needed to do that morning, the fact that he took so much time out of his day to spend with his fans is unbelievable.

"My father passed away a very happy man, one of a few who can say they lived their dream and met their hero."

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