|By Chris Maza
Justin Tracy, right, and his mother, Kathy "Keeker" Tracy
Reminder Publications submitted photo
WILBRAHAM For many, battling cancer is a figurative race against time.
But Wilbraham native Justin Tracy and the Project Keeker team are getting ready to literally put rubber to the road in that race.
Tracy, whose mother, Kathy, known by family and friends as "Keeker," has been battling cancer since 2007, has spent the better part of the last two years re-building the family's 1995 Honda Accord into a 10-second drag racer with the intention of raising money for his mother's treatments as well as the Cancer Research Institute.
Kathy, a volunteer coordinator for Shriner's Hospital for Children, was first diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer in 2007. With chemotherapy and radiation treatments as well as surgery, she was able to call herself a breast cancer survivor.
A year and a half later, however, the Tracy family received devastating news.
"She was told that the cancer had metastasized, meaning it was in her bones, lung, liver, retina and brain, and also that her cancer is treatable, but not curable," Justin explained.
Over the years, Justin had become attached to his mother's Honda Accord and on numerous occasions had tried to convince her to sell it to him.
When stricken with cancer, she finally sold him the car, but as his mother's circumstances changed, so did his intentions for the vehicle.
"Through the process of going through those numerous treatments and surgery, my mom sold me the old but much loved 1995 Honda Accord when I was 22 years old. My first intention was to use it as a daily driver, but soon after, it started to fall apart, so I decided to turn it into a hobby and fundraiser in order for my mother to see it race," Justin said.
The Project Keeker rebuild started out as a solitary venture for Justin, who used the expertise he gained through his education at the Baran Institute of Technology, but eventually, word of his efforts spread and help was on the way.
"I began this project single-handedly. As time progressed, a very close friend of mine, Josh Lawrence, along with my sister Lindsey, started to help," he said. "Word started getting out about this project and more and more family and friends took interest and wanted to join. Hours of dedication to the project have shown just how much the support can be a reward in itself."
Justin has been able to keep the project going primarily through fundraising efforts and support for the build has continued to grow with the help of the Internet and social media.
In addition to Facebook, YouTube and Instagram, Justin's friend, Shawn Santiago, developed the Project Keeker website and the group has received support through sponsorships from the likes of Chris Miller Racing, Performance Street Industries, Best Transmission, Underworld Importz and ATS Motorsports.
An Oct. 6, 2012 car wash also helped raise $1,200 for the project.
"People have been helping more and more each day," Justin said.
Justin and the Project Keeker team have worked diligently on the car, stripping it to its frame to completely rebuild it.
"The car is approximately 25 percent done," he said. "Many mechanical things still remain in progress and need to be completed. Some things still needed are a roll cage, suspension and vinyl wrapping for the whole car. Most internals for the bottom end have already been purchased, but the top end still needs a full performance rebuild as well as a turbo set up. We do have bits and pieces completed, such as some hydrographing done by Performance Street Industries, the turbo itself and a complete weight reduction setup."
Justin admits that working full-time and building the car, all the while caring for his mother takes a toll, but the ultimate goal of having his mother see him race to help her and others keeps him going.
"As my mother continues to ask if she will see the car race one day, it gives me the extra boost and drive to push through it all and continue the project," he said. "The project has not moved as fast as we were hoping for, but every day is another chance to keep our progress moving and our heads held high."
Reflecting on what the project means to him and his family, Justin said, "The car represents my mother and her strength in fighting this illness. It gives me a great feeling to see how much help and dedication we have received to support not just my mother and my family but research for cancer as well."
For more information, visit http://projectkeekerracing.wix.com/pkrpage or www.facebook.com/ProjectKeekerRacing.
Project Keeker is accepting donations via check and PayPal. Checks can be sent to Justin Tracy, 217 Stony Hill Road, Wilbraham MA 01095.
In addition to donations, the public can show their support by purchasing Team Project Keeker Racing memorabilia, also available through the website.
"We continue to look for sponsors and support each day and encourage all to help take part in this project," Justin said.
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