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Dream Racer: A video game treat during treatments

MANCHESTER - Patients at the Children's Hospital at Dartmouth in Lebanon and CHaD on Hitchcock Way in Manchester will have a chance to match their race car driving skills against the best.

Clad in a racing suit, New Hampshire Motor Speedway Executive Vice President and General Manager Jerry Gappens, the speedway mascot and the son of a speedway employee unveiled the Dream Racer in the CHaD pediatrics section.

The race vehicle, a child-size version of a NASCAR vehicle, was made by a retired race car builder living in North Carolina and decorated with graphics by Matt Rolfe, a 2012 graduate of Southern New Hampshire University and owner/designer of M Rolfe Designs, specializing in motosports graphics.

Manchester resident Jacob Raby, 11, grabbed a roll bar and swung himself into the car, buckling himself in before beginning to test himself against the best in race video games that play on a screen on the hood in front of him. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is his favorite racer and when Gappens asked who is his second favorite, Raby said their wasn't one. He's a one driver fanatic.

Cheryl LaPrade, director of the New Hampshire chapter of the Speedway Children's Charities, said the charities were founded in 1982 by Bruton Smith, chairman of Speedway Motorsports and Sonic Automotive, and the New Hampshire chapter was established in 2009. Since then, she said, the chapter has distributed $450,000, helping 88,000 children.

The Dream Racer isn't all play, although it has race car video games, movies and streaming music. It has a hook for hanging an IV bag, so youngsters can be distracted while undergoing treatments.

The two CHaD facilities are among just 25 of the 756 children's hospitals across the country to have the $10,000 Dream Racers.

Jessica Laperle, child life program coordinator for CHaD, said the goal of the program is "to make sure that the kid part of kid is being treated too." She said things like Silly Putty, DVD players and other toys have to come from philanthropic organizations. CHaD can't bill an insurance company for Silly Putty, even if it helps a child heal.

She said something like the Dream Racer can decrease anxiety in children undergoing treatment. For families, it's something to talk about to ease nervousness.

Raby, who got his own pint-size racing suit that Gappens assured him would be embroidered with his name, said the only thing lacking was a "man room" with vehicle models and other racing paraphernalia.

But for CHaD patients, the new vehicle is a great gift. It's been nicknamed the Smile Car for good reason.


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