NHL fan and NASCAR driver Ryan Ellis will have a very special and personally significant paint scheme at Michigan International Speedway on Saturday.
Ellis’ Xfinity Series race car was designed by Chris Thorburn’s three children – Bennett, 12, Mary, 5, and Oscar, 2 – to raise awareness of autism. Thorburn, an 801-game NHL veteran, retired after the St. Louis Blues’ championship season in 2018-19.
Thorborn’s eldest child, Bennett, was diagnosed with autism when he was four years old. Bennett learned to recognize numbers and to count thanks to his little racing cars. To further encourage their son, the Thorburns attended races at Michigan International Speedway as a family every year.
This year, Bennett will feel the confidence of seeing a car on the track he helped create. It’s a confidence he deserves to always feel.
“We would like to sincerely thank Tom and TJ Keen of Keen Parts, Alpha Prime Racing and NASCAR driver and friend Ryan Ellis for this incredible opportunity,” Chris and Sara Thorburn said in a statement. “NASCAR has been a big part of our family’s life ever since we realized Bennett was using die-cast cars to recognize, learn and count numbers. We were very lucky years ago to be introduced to the NASCAR family and have been big fans ever since.
“People across the sport are so caring, understanding and ready to help no matter the cause. He really does have a family resemblance. We visited Michigan International Speedway four years ago, and with the help of Chris Biby, we were introduced to Ryan Ellis. This guy is the epitome of how we feel in NASCAR. Not only is he a great driver, but he’s so caring, loving, and generous. We cannot thank him enough for the opportunity he and his team have given our family. Not only was it a fun family project, but the kids will see the car they designed run the race and hopefully bring smiles to families who can relate to our situation, but also raise awareness in the autism community. .
Bennett Thorburn worked with his siblings to color a model of NASCAR on a sheet of paper with crayons. The design was then scanned and sent to Ellis’ team who then turned it into a stunning wrap for his car. The phrase “Be a Friend” was added to the lower panel and bumper.
The St. Louis Blues released a video of Ryan revealing the scheme to the Thorburn family ahead of the race.
— St. Louis Blues (@StLouisBlues) August 6, 2022
“I’m so proud to lead this program and so grateful that Tom and TJ Keen have made this a reality for the Thorburn family,” Ellis said. “They have done so much with their sponsorships to do so much more than promote their business. They really used it as a platform to help others and put smiles on people’s faces. I met the Thorburns a few years ago at Michigan International Speedway while working for Go Fas Racing, ironically at a Keen-sponsored race weekend. The Thorburns couldn’t be nicer people – you meet them and immediately feel like you’ve known them for years and we feel so lucky to be able to do something for Bennett and their family and hope it brings some autism awareness. My wife [Allison] works in the field of mental health and it also means a lot to our family.
Ellis and Thorburn’s friendship led to one of Ryan’s most memorable sporting moments of his life. The Blues legend, knowing what a huge hockey fan Ellis was, invited the Xfinity Series pilot to his Stanley Cup day at his home in Michigan in 2019. Ellis, who lives in North Carolina, has had a photo op with the Stanley Cup – a Capitals super fan experience that couldn’t have happened at the Stanley Cup celebration in Washington a year prior.
Thorburn even helped Ellis take a drink from the NHL Championship trophy.
Ellis, a longtime RMNB player, played on the George Mason University hockey team and plays on a beer league team in North Carolina. He attended a Capitals Stanley Cup Finals game in 2018 and watched the team’s championship parade weeks later.
The special design of Ellis’ car would not have been possible without the support of the No. 44 Chevrolet’s title sponsor, CorvetteParts.net. The company, owned by Tom and TJ Keen, sells parts and accessories for Corvette owners of all generations. They have used their sponsorship for many charitable causes, including a charitable campaign for the Laughlin Family Foundation last year in Martinsville which raised tens of thousands of dollars to fight rare cancers, and are loyal sponsors of NASCAR for over 10 years.
Everybody’s gonna wish @ryanellisracing a very happy birthday!! One of the greatest guys I’ve had the pleasure of meeting (thanks @ianoland for presentation). Not to mention he is so generous and a big supporter of @FightRareCancer. I hope you are having a good day!!! pic.twitter.com/qUNBenDW3s
— Courtney Laughlin (@CourtneyL_Caps) November 30, 2021
“We are very proud to be able to support such a great cause,” said TJ Keen of Keen Parts. “Bennett, Mary and Oscar did a great job designing this schematic, and Tom and I are very happy to be able to have CorvetteParts.net / Keen Parts represented on their design! We’re really looking forward to seeing it on the track this Saturday and we hope the whole family can enjoy this weekend and hope it helps raise autism awareness.
Saturday’s race, which airs in the United States at 3:30 p.m., will mark Ryan’s second in consecutive weeks. This season, Ellis achieved Alpha Prime Racing’s best result as a team, 13th, twice despite a limited schedule. Ellis hopes to move to a full season next year.
We will bring a pack of 64 pencils for @ThePickleGang in case we need repairs https://t.co/hTTIaKMCZM
— Alpha Prime Racing (@TeamAlphaPrime) August 4, 2022
Full disclosure: Ryan Ellis is a longtime reader and friend of the blog. RMNB has sponsored Ryan at races in the past. We bring you remarkable stories about Ryan’s career because we hope to help him achieve his dream of being a full-time runner in Xfinity or the best series one day.