Doug Zumbach, Jack Horner, Bob Stafford, Peter Bush, Tom Smith, Kent Olsen, and Steve Gaeta are a group of local auto enthusiasts who frequent Caffeine and Carburators, Zumbach’s car show outside of his coffee shop on Pine Street. This season, however, they’ve come together for a much greater cause.
“I started this gathering back in 1995, put it to bed for awhile and brought it back a few years ago,” Zumbach said. “This is the fourth season.”
Cars park outside out on Sunday mornings several times each year where they bond over their love of cars and enjoy a coffee fix.
“We had a fantastic show in November, 300 of us came out. We thought, there’s got to be more to it, but we knew that getting 400 wasn’t the answer,” Stafford said.
The team started throwing around the idea of participating in the Lemon Race and partnering with Yale-New Haven Hospital and the Smilow Center for Pediatric Oncology to make their race something special.
The Lemon Race is an endurance race of "junk cars" held May 5-6 at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway. While many team members have racing experience, none have entered this kind of race before.
“Last fall, Bob called me and told me what they wanted to do,” Michelle D’Amore, development officer at Yale-New Haven Hospital, said. “It was their idea to involve the kids.”
The kids at Smilow Center named the team — Smilow’s Courageous Kids Racing Team — and the car, “The Swagger Wagon.”
The Swagger Wagon is a salvaged 1995 BMW 325is — found in a junkyard in Indiana. The car has 181,000 miles on it.
“We took everything out of the inside, did just about everything ourselves,” Stafford said. “You can’t spend more than $500 outside of safety equipment.”
The car bears the lucky number seven — standing for the seventh floor where Smilow Center is located — and the outside has been turned into a veritable work of art by the children there, ranging in age from one to eighteen years old.
“A couple of us went down to the clinic with the hood, Colin drew the teddy bear, he’s four. Dan is twelve. These are the footprints of a one-year-old with leukemia,” Stafford explained. “At least a couple of the kids and their families are planning to come to the race.”
The team has sent racing suits to the kids, posed with them in the car, and enjoyed sharing the experience with the kids at Smilow.
“What we’ve gained from this has been amazing. We call what they’re going through a speed bump in their lives,” Stafford said. “We’re trying to finish the race, they’re trying to finish their race. It’s been pretty special.”
While Horner, Stafford, Zumbach, and Bush will drive on race day — switching on and off throughout the eight hours of racing on Saturday and the seven hours on Sunday — Olsen, Smith, and Gaeta will serve as the pit crew.
Many have donated cash in the jar at Zumbach’s or written a check, others have pledged per lap. Donations can be made at the coffee shop and more information is available on their website.
“After the race, we’re going to go out to Yale and have the kids present the check,” Stafford said. “It’s the kids’ racing team, they’re the ones who’ve helped us raise the money and they’re the ones who will give them the check.”