Fort Worth

Tree lighting celebrates Speedway Children’s Charities in Fort Worth

Piper Wilson, 6, on her new bike, pedals past the giant Christmas tree at Texas Motor Speedway, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015.
Piper Wilson, 6, on her new bike, pedals past the giant Christmas tree at Texas Motor Speedway, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015. Star-Telegram

This spring, Rhys and Piper Wilson lost their 67-year-old grandmother who suffocated in her sleep because of complications from a fall.

Rhys, 9, and Piper, 6, and their mother lived with their grandmother and her death hit them hard.

“My son kept telling me it was his fault,” their mom, Amanda Wilson, said.

Rhys felt guilty about his ADHD diagnosis and the stress he believed it put on his grandmother.

But Tuesday night, the 9-year-old was happy, “super, super, duper, happy” as he hopped on a donated bicycle and rode in circles across The Speedway Club parking lot as a part of a Texas Motor Speedway tradition.

The evening included the official lighting of the “The Biggest Living Christmas Tree in Texas,” according to speedway publicists. It’s a 66-foot tall Douglas fir from Montana.

Children danced and dashed for fake cash tossed by Santa, and 100 bikes and helmets were given to kids like Rhys and Piper.

“He really needed this,” Wilson said, looking at her son. “He just gets absolutely stir crazy. And we are struggling.”

The bikes and helmets were given to the children from A WARM Place and A Wish With Wings organizations, which help grieving children and grants wishes to sick children, respectively.

“Nothing says Christmas more than bicycles with bows on them and smiles on kids,” Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage said.

The event helps celebrate Speedway Children’s Charities-Texas Chapter, which has raised $10 million for area children’s organizations in the past 19 years, Gossage said.

The charity gave about $300,000 on Tuesday. Local radio personalities handed out checks, including Newy Scruggs, sports director of KXAS/Channel 5; Norm Hitzges, host of SportsRadio 1310 The Ticket; Jody Dean of 98.7 KLUV; and Justin Frazell of 95.9 The Ranch.

A special presentation was made in honor of the Do It For Durrett Foundation, which is dedicated to helping families dealing with sudden loss. It is named for area sports personality Richard Durrett who died suddenly on June 17, 2014, at the age of 38.

His wife, Kelly Durrett, and Lauren Dugger, whose husband, Jason Dugger, a longtime employee of The Dallas Morning News, died in 2014, learned that their families will receive Christmas gifts, house decorations and gift cards toward holiday meals courtesy of speedway and Speedway Charities.

“A lot of people experience loss like this,” said Kelly Durrett, a member of the foundation’s board. “It’s nice to be on the other side. The first summer was a whirlwind.”

Kelly Durrett was pregnant with her daughter Margot, now 11 months, when her husband died. Son Owen is 7 and daughter Alice is 5.

Her daughter has had four surgeries for Currarino syndrome — an inherited disorder — with the help of money raised by many who loved her husband.

The Callier Center and Communications Disorders at the University of Texas at Dallas received the Founder’s Grant, a check for more than $146,000 to be used for a new building that includes a special sensory motor gym with a decorative motif of the speedway for kids.

Dr. Thomas Campbell, the center’s executive director, said many children who have speech and language problems have sensory motor problems.

The gym, and its cool design, will help with that.

Staff writer Diane Smith contributed to this report.

Monica S. Nagy: 817-390-7792, @MonicaNagyFWST

Texas Speedway Children’s Charities

  • Organizations receiving grants:
  • Foundation for the Callier Center and Communications Disorders at the University of Texas at Dallas — more than $146,000
  • Mary Crowley Cancer Research Center — $46,000
  • Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth — $15,000
  • Camp iHope — $9,500
  • Denton Kiwanis Children’s Clinic — $25,000
  • PediPlace — $25,000
  • University of North Texas Health Science Center — more than $11,000
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