A perfect pit stop, Finley boy fighting cancer gets chance to meet hero Earnhardt
Lance Rayner sat at the end of a hotel room bed earlier this week with a shiny, red Matchbox car in his hand. The 7-year-old boy from Finley, N.D., growled to simulate the engine's roar as he raced the tiny replica of NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Lance Rayner sat at the end of a hotel room bed earlier this week with a shiny, red Matchbox car in his hand.
The 7-year-old boy from Finley, N.D., growled to simulate the engine's roar as he raced the tiny replica of NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s car up and down the comforter.
"I get to see him," Lance said excitedly to a room full of people. "I'm going to ask him if he is going to win."
He gets to meet Earnhardt at today's Nextel All-Star Challenge NASCAR race at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Charlotte, N.C. Thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, he'll be one of two children to meet with the popular driver in the pit area before the race.
Lance was diagnosed with neurocytoma - a rare brain cancer - more than two years ago.
Shortly after the diagnosis, he had surgery at Fargo's MeritCare to remove several tumors.
After six weeks of chemotherapy, Lance's parents, Jason and Renae, hoped their child's battle with cancer was finished.
But it was just the beginning.
The tumors returned last year, forcing Lance to undergo another brain surgery and more chemotherapy.
The battle still wasn't over.
Jason and Renae learned in January that Lance's cancer was back again.
This time, five weeks of radiation were used to fight the tumors.
The family won't learn if the treatment was successful until Lance undergoes an MRI when they return from North Carolina.
"It's been tough on everybody," Jason said. "It's a rollercoaster ride. One day it's good news and the next day it's not-so good news."
For Lance, however, it's just part of his life.
He goes to the hospital, takes pills and gets blood drawn just like he goes to school, does his homework and plays with his friends.
"The thing with Lance is that he is the one who is so strong," Renae said. "He never complains about anything."
Lance began watching NASCAR races with his parents a couple years ago. He picked Earnhardt as his favorite because that's who his dad likes, Renae said.
Renae prefers Tony Stewart, who is also a favorite of Lance's 4-year-old brother, Logan.
So, come race day, the living room is split in two: Earnhardt fans on one side and Stewart fans on the other.
That is, when everybody is actually in the same room.
Lance usually watches the last 15 to 20 laps each Sunday. After all, a rambunctious kid has got to play, too.
But he pops in and out of the living room during the race to ask if Earnhardt is in the lead.
"If he wins he gets totally excited," Renae said.
The community has rallied around the Rayner family since Lance's diagnosis. The school began distributing orange wrist bands with the inscription "Band together for Lance" to raise money for his mounting hospital bills.
And Mayville State University - Jason and Renae's alma mater -held a benefit brunch for the family on campus.
Then there are the seemingly endless posts on Lance's Web page from well-wishers across the United States.
"People have been incredible," Jason said.
Right now, however, Jason and Renae prefer to focus on Lance's meeting with Earnhardt.
"He's been through so much," Jason said. "You just hope that one day you wake up and the tumor will just be gone."
Readers can reach Forum reporter Heath Hotzler at (701) 241-5562