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Top 10 Moments of 2017 - #9: Ken and John

Editor's Note: This is the second of a series of 10 vignettes in which IMS Senior Communications Manager Paul Kelly picks his top 10 moments of 2017 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Indianapolis 500 and Brickyard 400 veteran John Andretti is beloved by fans due to his common touch and always-affable nature. He is quick to sign autographs and pose for pictures, and even quicker with a smile.

But it was hard for Andretti and his fans to hide their concern when Andretti came to IMS in mid-May to give the media an update on his grave fight against Stage 4 colon cancer and to promote regular colon screenings through the hashtag #CheckIt4Andretti.

Andretti was in the race for his life. He knew it, and so did everyone else. But there was one man that day at IMS who understood what Andretti was about to face perhaps more than anyone. He wasn’t a race driver. He wasn’t a celebrity.

He was a Yellow Shirt – longtime IMS Safety Patrol member Ken DeLion.

DeLion, in his 23rd year on the Safety Patrol, continued to work at the track in his customary spot at the south pit gate even though he was diagnosed with colon cancer in late 2015. He learned that Andretti was at the track in early May of this year, and he told a writer interviewing him that he wanted to meet John and encourage him.

A meeting between the two men was arranged, and it took only a few jokes about their shared chemotherapy treatments for the famous race driver and the Yellow Shirt to form a bond of friendship.

Ken and John talked for about 20 minutes about their treatment, about their hopes and fears and about their shared experience as race fans and cancer patients. It was a moment of human magic unlike few others this year at IMS.

Andretti has undergone multiple surgeries and finished his chemotherapy treatment in early November as he battles toward remission. Sadly, DeLion passed away July 13 in his hometown of Lafayette, Indiana.

But an unlikely meeting between two men from different walks of life – but with the shared bond of a love for racing and a battle against cancer – was one of the most heart-warming human experiences of the year at IMS in 2017.

Please take time to read this beautiful feature story by Phillip B. Wilson about Ken and John’s meeting in May. It still tingles the spine and soothes the soul after multiple reads. Read now.


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Top 10 Moments of 2017 - #9: Ken and John
DeLion, in his 23rd year on the Safety Patrol, continued to work at the track in his customary spot at the south pit gate even though he was diagnosed with colon cancer in late 2015. He learned that Andretti was at the track in early May of this year, and he told a writer interviewing him that he wanted to meet John and encourage him.
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