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Road Atlanta racers do a good turn for clinic
Tommy Milner works on a playground Wednesday at the Good News Clinics with the help of David Morefield of Lowe’s. Milner drives for the BMW team in the American Le Mans Series, and will compete in the Petit Le Mans races this weekend at Road Atlanta. - photo by Tom Reed

Drivers racing in this week’s Petit Le Mans road race braked for a moment Wednesday to lend a hand to Good News Clinics in Gainesville.

Corvette Racing driver Oliver Gavin and BMW Rahal Letterman Racing driver Tommy Milner helped plant six autumn blaze maple trees at the nonprofit health care agency.

Lowe’s Home Improvement workers also built a playground made of sustainable wood on the clinic’s lawn.

The planting and playground construction are part of the American Le Mans Series’ off-track green initiative with Lowe’s.

"On track, we have some green initiatives with Michelin Green X Challenge that measures the carbon footprint of each car," said Allison Barry, public relations manager for the American racing series. "This is what we do off the track to balance it."

Road Atlanta President Geoff Lee said he pointed the American Le Mans Series to the Gainesville health clinic because he felt the agency provides an invaluable service to uninsured residents of Hall County.

"To be able to give free medical care to folks who otherwise wouldn’t receive it is so important, especially now when so many people are out of work with the economy," he said. "They’re seeing more patients than ever, and it’s a chance for us to bring the spotlight to them."

Cheryl Christian, executive director of Good News Clinics, said the largest free health care clinic in Georgia will serve more than 4,000 patients this year. She said as more people lose their jobs, Hall County’s uninsured rates keep climbing.

"We’re seeing people now who have always had health insurance and are asking for help for the first time," Christian said.

Although the clinic is taking on more patients, she said more medical professionals are spending time on their days off to serve the growing need. She said 43 physicians, 42 dentists and three pediatricians volunteer at Good News Clinics.

She said the playground is an asset the clinic never dreamed it could offer.

"Coming to the doctor or dentist is not a fun thing to do, so this playground will be a good reward before or after," she said.

The playground building and tree planting initiative are just part of the racing world’s burgeoning green focus. More racing teams are developing hybrid or more eco-friendly cars to promote green technologies on the racetrack along with their real-world use on American highways.

Barry said the cars that race at speeds up to 165 mph in the 10-hour, 1,000-mile long Petit Le Mans run on petroleum displaced fuels. The Michelin Green X Challenge calculates the carbon dioxide emissions and overall efficiency of the cars to determine which are the least damaging to the environment.

Oliver said the car he races, a Corvette GT2, runs on ethanol fuel and won the green challenge at the series’ last event in Mosport, Canada.

"We’re trying to say to the people ‘Race cars can run on green fuel.’ And if the cars win, that’s a big story," he said. "... The ultimate goal is to have a race car out there that is completely green and has no carbon footprint. General Motors and Corvette are working extremely hard to work toward that. They realize we’ve got to find some alternative."