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Auction raises funds for Alzheimers research
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Johnny O’Connell signs autographs Friday afternoon at Road Atlanta prior to team qualifying. O’Connell holds a charity auction each year in conjunction with the Petit Le Mans, with proceeds benefitting Alzheimer’s research and The Guest House in Gainesville.

Petit Le Mans road race

When: 11:15 a.m. today
Where: Road Atlanta, 5300 Winder Highway, Braselton
Tickets: $65 (kids ages 12 and younger free with paid adult)
Parking: Free, near main entrance; infield parking available for $40
TV: SPEED (Charter cable channel 40)
More info: 800-849-7223 or www.roadatlanta.com.

Racing fans walked away with some one-of-a-kind memorabilia during an annual auction at Road Atlanta in Braselton.

The auction, which was organized by Flowery Branch resident and driver for Corvette, Johnny O'Connell, was held at the conclusion of track activities Friday for the Petit Le Mans.

"You can't get this stuff anywhere else. It's so unique," said racing fan Mark Rhodes, who came with wife Kerrie.

Included on the auction block were autographed racing gloves from German race car driver Klaus Graf, body work from car wrecks, such as a Corvette front fender, and driving suits.

The items are typically donated by the Petit Le Mans racers the day of the event.

O'Connell said money from the auction benefits Alzheimer's research and The Guest House, which is an adult day health care facility in Gainesville. It's a personal issue for the driver, who lost his father to Alzheimer's in 1999.

"I realized what a cruel disease this is not only for the
individual but for their families," he said.

He said that in a low year, the auction can take in as
much as $27,000, and about $55,000 in a good year. Tallies for the total amount raised Friday are still being counted.

Kerrie Rhodes said she began coming to the auction four years ago, after hearing O'Connell's story. She too lost a parent to Alzheimer's disease.

"We buy something every year," she said, adding that she and her husband have a small collection of shoes, gloves and engine parts.

Some of the bigger sales included the $250 checkered race flag that will be used in Saturday's race. O'Connell also sold his rear wheel tire rim for $225, which General Motors diagnosed with a stress fracture.

"They said they usually don't see fractures until 180,000 miles. I did it in 80,000," O'Connell said, proudly.

Charlie Deatrick, 15, of Marietta completed 75 pushups at the event to collect a bevy of signed items from O'Connell. Deatrick, referred to as "pushup boy" by O'Connell, has been doing pushups at the event since he was 13. In previous years, he's taken home tires, pictures and a windshield.

"In the past, he's had me do 300 or 400," Deatrick said.
"There's not many guys as cool as he is," he added.

O'Connell said he appreciated the turnout, and that he hoped his "goofball" sense of humor as auctioneer made some people laugh.

"It's so easy to raise money for kids, but for senior citizens it's next to impossible," O'Connell said. "Even if we raise $5,000 I'd be happy because that's money that would not have been there otherwise."

 

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