The sport of open-wheeled racing in St. Petersburg, Florida, is connecting Kart 4 Kids, a nonprofit organization, to concussion research at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital (JHACH). In March, Kart 4 Kids held its 12th annual Pro-Am Race, bringing professional IndyCar drivers and area participants to a track in nearby Palmetto. The event raised more than $280,000.
The race pays tribute to Dan Wheldon — avid IndyCar driver and St. Petersburg resident who had a huge heart for kids. Wheldon passed away in 2011. Throughout the history of the fundraiser, Kart 4 Kids has donated more than $1.6 million to JHACH to support patient care equipment and to establish the Kart 4 Kids Relief Fund and the Kart 4 Kids Concussion Initiative.
“Johns Hopkins is a pillar of our community,” says Chris Russick, president of Kart 4 Kids. “There are amazing strides being made in concussion research with Dr. [Patrick] Mularoni and his team. We want our funds helping our kids directly — the collaboration between these initiatives is important.”
Patrick Mularoni, MD, is the sports medicine director at JHACH. He also specializes in pediatric emergency medicine. His research team consists of neuropsychologist Danielle Ransom, PsyD, Luis Ahumada, PhD, an expert in machine learning and AI, and many others interested in concussion research on the St. Petersburg campus.
“We are attempting to better understand the epidemiology behind concussions and who’s getting them and why,” explains Mularoni. “But then in addition, helping to figure out ways we can leverage technology to let us better understand what’s happening to these individuals and how they’re reacting to their concussion.”
Mularoni credits Kart 4 Kids with allowing his team to advance their research in pediatric concussions. He emphasizes how concussions can occur in a variety of athletic activities, not just in helmeted sports.
“The work we’re doing hopefully will benefit those children across all sports,” says Mularoni. “We are looking towards this exciting way of doing research where we are utilizing technology to monitor athletes after a concussion and looking for other technologic advances to better diagnose them.”
According to Russick, the Pro-Am Race brings spectators and drivers from across the globe. The race is headlined by International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) driver and St. Petersburg resident Sébastien Bourdais along with drivers from the Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation (NTT) IndyCar series. Each team is made up of professional and sponsored amateur drivers. Following the race, festivities continue with meeting drivers and an auction.
Pro-Am participant, volunteer, and 2022 Kart 4 Kids Ambassador Jack Chmura describes how the Kart 4 Kids Concussion Initiative impacted him directly. Chmura suffered a concussion from a racing accident in 2021 when he was 14 years old.
“Funds we raised from Kart 4 Kids went towards helping me recover from my concussion; Dr. Mularoni helped me,” says Chmura. “I became close with the organization. I saw how it affects people on a daily basis. I’m now a committee member.”
The Pro-Am Race brings a weekend of excitement to the coastal city, but Chmura acknowledges it takes everyone to create the roaring atmosphere.
“There is so much that goes on behind the scenes with Kart 4 Kids. It’s hard work, but it’s special,” he says. “To help children recover from concussions and get them back doing the things they love is the most important — Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital is wonderful.”
Russick adds, “Kart 4 Kids is generational. The committee includes people from across our community from all age groups and backgrounds. We all want to make a difference.”
And that’s exactly what they’re doing.
“It’s amazing to see the generosity of the drivers, sponsors, donors, and the Kart 4 Kids board to find a mission in pediatric health and want to give to our hospital,” says Mularoni. “They care as much about this place and the children at All Children’s as I do. We couldn’t do the work we are doing in concussion research without Kart 4 Kids, and I couldn’t do the work without my team.”