Fred Chartrand of Abbotsford has always loved race cars.
When he was a young man, starting at about age 16, he raced them himself – mostly old Fords – for a few years in Ontario.
Now 72, he has followed the professional and amateur speed circuit for many years, attending countless races in the U.S. and Canada and watching everything he can on TV.
Chartrand also has another favourite – his only great-grandchild, Kaidence Beauvais, age 4, whom he calls “my princess.” She calls him “Pepere.”
Kaidence is somewhat of a tomboy. One of her favourite possessions is a gift from her Pepere: a little truck filled with 30 toy cars.
She, too, has become fond of racing, and she’d much rather immerse herself in this world than play with dolls.
Fred had told his great-granddaughter that some day he would take her for a ride in a race car. He always thought that if he lived long enough, he would even build her one.
A few short months ago, Fred learned that day was not likely to come.
Almost six decades of heavy smoking – three packs a day for many years – caught up with him, and he was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.
Fred quit smoking cold turkey and started making plans. Doctors estimate he has only another couple of months to live.
Foremost in his mind has been leaving his great-granddaughter with a lasting memory. She had never been to a live race, so the two headed to the Okanagan at the beginning of September for a combined camping/speedway trip.
Fred’s plan was to ask the folks at Penticton Speedway – one of his favourite tracks – if the pair could snag a ride. It was his wish to take Kaidence for a ride in a real race car with a real driver on a real race track.
Once there, he explained the situation to owners Johnny and Jasmine Aantjes. He was told it couldn’t be arranged on this trip, but it might be possible in a couple of weeks.
So Fred and Kaidence enjoyed the races that weekend and returned two weeks later. He again spoke to the owners, and this time his wish would be granted. The news brought tears to his eyes.
The moment was announced over the loudspeaker and, on Sept. 21, an excited Kaidence took her Pepere’s hand, and the two made their way onto the track. They were told they could ride in the entire feature race in the Underwriters Undertaker Hearse, which clears the track of cars that aren’t moving.
Kaidence had a smile on her face for all 30 laps. “Can you go faster?” she asked the driver on more than one occasion.
At the end of the race, Kaidence handed the driver $5, saying it was for him to buy gas. In turn, she received a hug and a trophy that was so special to her that she took it to her preschool class to share for show-and-tell.
Almost two months later, Fred tears up when talking about how special this experience was for him and Kaidence.
“She’ll remember that for the rest of her life,” he says.