Race car drivers are usually the ones we hear of, impacting their fans with the personal touch that many other sports stars fail to live up to.

But 4-year-old Tyler Evans was one fan who reversed that role and continues to impact people throughout southern West Virginia, eight months after his untimely death.

Tyler’s young life was taken by a drunk driver on Aug. 31, 2006. The Evans family lives in Dorothy.

Rick Lucas, who drives a Late Model dirt race car, got to know Tyler and his family at Beckley Motor Speedway. Tyler was fascinated by the action, but he and Lucas had a special bond.

“He and Rick were good friends,” said Terry Evans, Tyler’s father. “Tyler liked to go down to his trailer on race day.”

“Tyler always talked about race cars,” said Marsha Evans, Tyler’s mother. “He knew all of the Late Model drivers and would tell people all about them and their cars. He knew the numbers on each car and who the driver was. He always said that he would be a race car driver some day. He would wear his helmet in the car as we drove to the track. He really thought he was something. We wanted to be out there on the track.”

The youngster was so obsessed with going to the races that he wouldn’t accept that races could be rained out.

“We had to drive Tyler down to the track to show him that they had been rained out,” Marsha said. “He would have thrown a fit.”

Tyler and Lucas really hit it off.

“I met Tyler when he was a little past the walking stage,” said Lucas, 40 of Rand. “Each week his mom or dad would bring him down to play in the trailer. He had a personality that drew people to him. He was interested in driving. For a little kid, he had big dreams.”

In honor of Tyler’s life, Lucas is paying tribute to him with a special race car this season. He gave his car a “Hot Wheels” design, painted the car purple and put Tyler’s picture on the hood scoop along with an anti-drunk driving message.

“Tyler always said that there were no purple cars to root for,” Marsha said. “Purple was his favorite color. We really appreciate Rick for doing this. Tyler had a lot of fun hanging out with Rick and playing Hot Wheels.”

“We are honored that Rick would do something like this,” said an emotional Terry. “It’s beautiful. I teared up when I saw it. Tyler would have loved it. Every weekend, he had to go down and see ‘his’ car and sit in it.”

“Rick didn’t have to do this. He could have just put a small sticker on his car and it would have been enough. But he didn’t stop there.”

Lucas did not have to compromise his current sponsors. In fact, they were unanimously supportive.

“Kanawha Valley Maintenance was very pleased,” he said. “They are originally from Tyler’s home area. They thought it was a great idea and it had a good meaning and reason. Lucas Oil Products from Corona, Calif., is backing it and planning on putting something about it on their Web site. Medford Trucking said they were touched by the story. Tomahawk Race Car Chassis even allowed me to re-design their logo into a Hot Wheels design.”

Though their son’s life was taken, the Evanses feel there could still be some good come from their horrible experience — possibly through the exposure that the race car can give.

“If it helps one person decide not to drink and drive, it might be worth it,” Marsha said. “Hopefully it will make more people be aware of it.

Lucas said the news of Tyler’s death was difficult to deal with.

“I couldn’t believe it was real,” he said. “It’s one of those things you never think could happen to someone you know. It changes your outlook on things a lot. Things that you think are important aren’t so much any more. Drinking and driving can change your life in an instant. I already had one man see the car and tell me that it made him feel guilty for drinking and driving the night before. I hope that it will make more people think.”

Lucas was present when the Evans family saw the car for the first time.

“I was happy to see that it made them happy,” Lucas said. “It made me feel good. They just kept thanking me and said that Tyler finally had a purple car to root for. They said, ‘I’m sure he’s looking down. He is still one of your biggest fans.’”

Lucas races at Beckley Motor Speedway many Friday nights and on Saturdays at various tracks within three hours of his home in Charleston. He has also placed a memorial for Tyler on his Web site, RickLucas.com.

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