California woman's 'NASCAR Angels' experience has been bumpy ride
Wednesday, Jan. 06, 2010
BLOOMINGTON, Calif. – Debra Yocum's 1997 Dodge van sat in front of her mobile home about a year ago, not running, and storing items for the volunteer group she operates.
Then the "NASCAR Angels" came to town.
Officials with the syndicated TV show pledged to replace the engine, spruce up the interior, throw on new tires and fix assorted problems to get the van back on the road.
A year later, the van is sitting in front her mobile home, not running, and storing items for the volunteer group.
''But it has some really cool tires," she said.
Yocum heads the Kayos Kidz club, a program that empowers area youth to do volunteer work.
She had used the van to tote kids to community cleanups, camping trips
and other activities of a group that has garnered more than 100 awards in the last six years.
But a blown head gasket would render the 145,000-mile van inoperable. That's when the Kayos Kidz mailed a video of their dilemma to NASCAR Angels, a show dedicated to helping Good Samaritans get their vehicles working again.
Reaching more than a million homes a week, the show is produced by Phoenix-based MagicDust Television. It was MagicDust that arranged to have the van towed from Yocum's house and worked on at a local Goodyear Gemini dealership.
The company also taped Yocum in the community, and at home -- with a cardboard cutout of Carl Edwards, her favorite NASCAR driver.
In February, they brought Yocum, Kayos Kidz and about 100 supporters to the Bloomington High School track to film the the unveiling of the revamped van.
Yocum embraced host and racing icon Rusty Wallace, thanked "NASCAR Angels" and revved the engine in the bright-white ride.
Then the trouble started.
Yocum said when her husband was invited into the van, he sat in a captain's seat in the back. The seat toppled backwards and his feet nearly hit the ceiling, she said.
Officials told her after the show she couldn't drive the van home. They needed to do more work on it.
An executive producer for MagicDust said because of deadlines for taping, sometimes the work that needs to be done on a vehicle can't be completed in time.
''The Goodyear Gemini guys had some things they didn't like with the interior when they drove the car from the garage to the high school that day," Dennis O'Neill said. "It went back and got those kinds of repairs."
O'Neill said they gave Yocum a rental vehicle.
Yocum said she didn't receive her van back for months. Then she drove it about a half-mile before it broke down.
MagicDust arranged to have the van towed to a local Dodge dealer to replace the engine. When Yocum got it back, it broke down again. It went back to the dealer, came back to Yocum and broke down again.
The van would go through three engines.
''We didn't go a total of five miles in that van," Yocum said. "There were so many things the kids couldn't do because (NASCAR) had the van."
MagicDust, which has worked alongside NASCAR to help more than 60 people with their cars, said they share in Yocum's frustration.
''We've never had a case anywhere like this," O'Neill said.
MagicDust said the main problem turned out to be a transmission issue, which was never part of the original repair. That was in addition to problems that come with a vehicle that has 145,000 miles on it.
O'Neill said everybody involved feels bad about the situation, but they diagnosed the problems the best they could and stand by their work, which was warrantied.
Just like bringing a vehicle home from the local shop, sometimes the cars "NASCAR Angels" fix will have future problems not addressed during the work done for the show, he said.
''Two weeks down the road there could be another problem because it's an old car," O'Neill said.
Yocum said she was in the dark as the van was towed from shop to shop. When she got it back the first time, she came up with a list of interior work that needed to be done, in addition to the engine work.
Between trips to shops, Yocum said the van would come back in various states of disrepair. The horn sometimes honked when he she hit the driver's side lock. Interior panels were held in place with duct tape. A luggage rack disappeared. MagicDust later replaced it.
Then things got worse.
Yocum said she exited the passenger side door once and slipped on a side step, injuring her right arm.
O'Neill said Yocum did nothing to cause the problems with the vehicle. All the crews involved spent countless hours and tens of thousands of dollars trying to get the van running.
''They recognize what a good thing Debra is doing. I'd assume they would probably express their frustration too. They've really worked to make it right."
O'Neill's hope is that the exposure Yocum's club received from the show would somehow compensate for the problems with the van.
Regardless, Yocum has soured on NASCAR. This Christmas was the first in 10 years that she didn't receive any NASCAR-themed gifts. She didn't watch most of the races last year.
And the Carl Edwards cutout?
''He's in the closet."
To see more of the San Bernardino County Sun, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to www.sbsun.com.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.