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Family, Charlotte Motor Speedway help man with cancer cross off bucket list item

- sellis@charlotteobserver.com
Sunday, May. 26, 2013

When 44-year-old Frank Thurston was diagnosed with colon cancer in February, his brother-in-law, Todd Freeman, started to think of something special he could do for his wife’s brother.

His thoughtfulness led to a plan that brought both men and their wives from their homes in small-town Vershire, Vt., to Concord for a bucket-list weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Freeman knew Thurston has a passion for NASCAR. And Freeman’s brother, Tom, happened to have a connection with the speedway. One of Tom Freeman’s customers at his tire business in east Lincoln County works for the speedway and helped him set in motion the plan to cross off an item on Thurston’s bucket list.

Tom Freeman said the folks at the speedway were very responsive to his request to help bring Thurston to his first Coca-Cola 600 and even offered tickets and pit passes to Saturday and Sunday’s races for all three men and their wives.

“I thought that I needed to do something,” Tom Freeman said.

Thurston and Tom Freeman had never met until Thursday. The plan was all a surprise to Thurston, a brick and stone mason who’s been to NASCAR events at several other tracks, including Bristol and Talladega, but never Charlotte.

The speedway’s gift to him and his family is wonderful, Thurston said.

“I appreciate it. It’s a big deal. They didn’t have to do anything, but they stepped up and they did a lot,” Thurston said.

Racing is a long-time love of Thurston’s. His favorite driver is Jeff Gordon, and next to getting to drive on the track himself, Thurston said a win by Gordon is the best thing that could happen this weekend.

Thurston has some history of his own behind the wheel of a race car. He spent three years racing on quarter-mile dirt tracks in the early 2000s.

“I loved it. It was just an adrenaline rush, a blast,” Thurston said. “If I could do it all over again, I’d love to be a race car driver. I think those guys are living the perfect life.”

The night he won the points race in his league in September 2003, just his second year racing, Thurston’s father died of a heart attack. The same day, his mother was diagnosed with lung cancer; she died eight months later.

Now, almost 10 years later, Thurston is four months into his battle with colon cancer that spread to his lymph nodes and liver. He takes chemotherapy treatments three days a week, which will likely have to continue for the rest of his life.

Doctors have told him the cancer is shrinking. His prognosis has improved from being given about eight months to live when he was first diagnosed to an expectation now of five or more years – and Thurston is looking forward to plenty more.

“You never know. I’m planning on beating it. Gonna try,” Thurston said.

Thurston said his doctors have told him to do whatever he is able to right now. He has some more items he’d like to cross off his bucket list, like driving on a road course. And this summer, he plans to go up in a hot air balloon with his three aunts, one of whom suffers from lung cancer.

Thurston’s sister, Sara Freeman, said her brother has a lot of friends and family who care about him – including his new friends at the speedway.

“My brother has a lot to live for,” Sara Freeman said. “He has a lot fans out there.”

Ellis: 704-358-5298

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