As the United States inches closer to winter, the possibility of increased coronavirus concerns, and regular seasonal affective disorder, one Super Late Model team is working to remove the stigma associated with simply talking about depression.
The Florida Governor’s Cup this weekend at New Smyrna Speedway will carry entitlement sponsorship from Halifax Health and its ‘Race to Stop Suicide’ initiative. That same message has been adorned on the No. 43 driven by local racer Daniel Dye and his Ben Kennedy Racing platform over the past two seasons.
Dye is the son Daytona businessman and philanthropist Randy Dye, who encouraged his son to race for more than just himself when plotting out a career that has extended into the ARCA Racing Series.
There needed to be a platform, an opportunity to advocate for someone, and this particular message hit close to home for the now 16-year-old racer.
“I live in Volusia County, right, and Flagler County has the largest youth suicide numbers in the state and that’s right next to us,” Dye said. “It’s something my community, our schools, have dealt with a lot.
“We wanted to start a conversation that it’s something we need to talk about. Especially now, with COVID, everyone has so much more time in their own heads. It’s hard for a lot of people right now. When you’re constantly behind a screen, and separated from people more, it gets hard.”
In 2018 more than 500 people attempted suicide in Volusia and Flagler counties, and 152 of the attempts were fatal — amounting to a suicide death every 2.5 days. Dye says he has been confronted with the realities of mental health within his own school and social circles and wanted to contribute to a way forward through his racing program.
Randy Dye, who is also a member of the Daytona Area Chamber of Commerce and the NASCAR Foundation, put together a partnership with Halifax Health in Oct. 2018 to begin bringing awareness to this tragic trend.
“My son was 14, and when we had the opportunity to work with Halifax, it was hard for me, because it was a heavy conversation with Daniel and I didn’t know how to have that conversation,” the elder Dye said. “I don’t know if anyone really knows how to have that conversation with their kid.”
Daniel told his dad “we have to do it,” and Randy thought it was just youthful exuberance until the youngster explained how deeply entrenched depression is in his community … and how often he’s been personally affected by it.
He learned how much his son had already put into helping his friends — or had made himself available to talk to anyone who needed an ear — and the car would just be a vehicle to aid those efforts.
“For me, if someone needs help, just talk to them,” Daniel said. “It’s not a task. Who doesn’t have 10 minutes? You never know how much someone is struggling. And for me, and I don’t want to sound like a big shot, because I’m not, but you never know if someone talking to a NASCAR or ARCA driver for 10 minutes could make their day.
“If you have 10 minutes to do that, you do it. I have all the 10 minutes in the world if someone needs them. My DMs are open. Who doesn’t have 10 minutes to possibly change someone’s entire life?”
The Dyes and Halifax closed on the deal and the Ben Kennedy Racing No. 43 has been racing under the ‘Race to Prevent Suicide’ Banner ever since.
The early returns on their efforts are encouraging. Flagler County has fallen from first in Florida in suicide deaths to ninth, and Volusia has fallen from 16th to 15th, with overall state numbers decreasing before 2020 as well.
But due to the novel coronavirus, and the mental health challenges unfolding because of it, the work is just beginning for the Dyes and Halifax — who have also partnered with Florida state senator Tom A. Wright to make sure anyone who needs help can get help.
That’s why the Florida Governor’s Cup will be sponsored by ‘The Race to Stop Suicide’ this weekend.
“We want to make sure that anyone who feels like they need help, can find it,” Sen. Wright said. “Back in the day before smart phones, and all you had was the phone book, it was a challenge for people to find the right section, much less the right number for the library or water waste treatment plant.
“That’s the challenge people still have today for people who feel down on their luck, out of sorts, and just find themselves so down and don’t realize there are service available, free of charge, to help them work through the issues, whatever they might be.
“It could be that they feel inadequate, that they don’t feel like they’re providing for their families, or they could lose their jobs. The assistance programs are there to help people get through this moment in time.
“So, this weekend at the track, we’re going to make sure that information is available for everyone, I’m going to bring books that we have produced by the state, and announce some toll free numbers to share with their friends and families.”
“Daniel told me something that struck with me,” Randy Dye said. “No one cares until after it happens. It’s only until after someone takes their own life that we start to have conversations about what could have been done.
“We want to start the conversation, and have conversations, before it gets to that point.”
Not even the tough guy stereotype of motorsports is immune. Everyone in the garage this weekend has been affected by mental health or suicide. And everyone has been challenged in some way this year due to the coronavirus and physical distancing.
The younger Dye wants his peers to know that it’s okay to talk about it.
“What’s been encouraging to me is that I will post something on Twitter, and it gets someone to open up to me about how they need some help, and then a bunch of other people share their stories or say they’re willing to talk if someone needs it,” Dye said.
“It used to be that people were embarrassed by it, but all it takes is for one person to admit they need help, and someone else can admit and then everyone realizes how much help, friends and support they have around them. That’s how we make a difference.”