A story of loss, brotherhood, and family has been penned this month at Daytona by two teams in the Michelin Pilot Challenge paddock.
It starts with Paul Imhoff, the Director of Marketing and Communications at Hyundai North America, his wife Christy, and son Reese.
“Reese Joseph Imhoff was born on October 13, 2003,” Imhoff says. “From day one, we knew Reese was a special soul. He was the happiest kid and found true joy in helping those that need it most. Reese was a great student and stud athlete, making several all-star teams in baseball and lacrosse. On February 10, 2016, Reese was diagnosed with a rare bone cancer called osteosarcoma located just above his right knee.”
Imhoff’s teenage son was thrust into an arduous medical routine to try and halt the osteosarcoma’s aggressive march. Sports would take a backseat during the intensive cancer-fighting sessions.
“For three years and one month, Reese defined the word ‘warrior’,” Imhoff continues. “He endured 19 different chemotherapies, 13 surgical procedures – seven of which were major – learned to walk twice, and plowed through over 300 nights in the hospital. Reese didn’t want to be known for having cancer, so he passed up on generous offers from athletes, sports teams and celebrities. He always said to ‘give it to someone who needs it.’ Since sports were taken away from him, Reese learned many new hobbies: cooking, woodworking, photography, drone flying, archery, RC car racing, drawing, performing incredible magic tricks, and much more.”
As Hyundai and Imhoff began working with Bryan Herta Autosport in SRO and IMSA competition with its Veloster N TCR, Reese’s plight became part of the team’s rallying cry.
“We first started running the ‘Reese is a Beast’ logo in 2018, we were incredibly inspired by Reese’s fighting spirit and strength,” Herta says.
As BHA and Hyundai planted new roots in the Michelin Pilot Challenge series, the message of support for Imhoff’s son rode with the team during its first appearance on the high banks at Daytona International Speedway in January of 2019 with the Nos. 21 and 98 Veloster TCRs.
‘Reese is a Beast’ signage held a powerful new meaning at the second IMSA race of the year in March at Sebring. Days before the event, the Imhoffs lost their son and BHA said farewell to the 15-year-old boy whose heart drove the team.
“As parents, all you pray for is that your children are happy and healthy,” Imhoff says. “We never signed up for a life with cancer, but we all took it on – especially Christy – with a drive like no other. Reese was a trailblazer in many ways. He took on surgeries the doctors said he couldn’t handle, was the second kid in the country to receive a drug called MTP, and the first in the world to receive a NK-Cell treatment. These novel approaches didn’t help control the disease, and Reese moved to heaven on March 10, 2019.”
Reese Imhoff would be celebrated throughout the rest of the season as BHA and Hyundai went on to win four IMSA races and the TCR drivers’ championship in his name. The expansion to three cars for 2020 with the addition of the No. 88 BHA Hyundai was announced at the beginning of January as teams arrived at Daytona for the Roar Before The 24 test, and by all accounts, the brand’s TCR plans were locked into place. And then Herta was struck with the notion to ask a rival Michelin Pilot Challenge team for an uncomfortable favor.
“We wanted to do something to honor Reese and recognize him as he continues to inspire us to always give 100 percent,” Herta says. Like most sports where athletes are highly protective of their jersey numbers for sentimental reasons, racing teams choose their car numbers with great care. Sometimes it’s part of a tradition, or the luck they believe the number has brought in the past.
And sometimes, a number is chosen because the team learns it was the favorite worn in baseball and lacrosse by their fallen boy-warrior.
“The guys from BHA came to us and wanted the number 33, and they had a very good reason to ask for it,” says Russell Ward, who drives the family-owned Winward Racing Mercedes AMG GT4 that now carries the No. 4 on its flanks and hood.
“I am really glad to be able to help them out and add something positive to a very difficult circumstance. That’s what we do here. Racers help racers.”
The new No. 33 BHA Hyundai Veloster N driven by Gabby Chaves and Ryan Norman, featuring Reese’s signature number and slogan, and celebrating the Imhoff family as a whole, starts seventh for Friday’s Michelin Pilot Challenge curtain-raiser.