That’s a wrap: Dad to bring girl’s car design to life

Niki Lester and her dad, Casey, show the car that will have Niki’s design on it.

Casey Lester knew it would be a long shot for his 10-year-old daughter Niki to win Toyota’s Sponsify race-car-design contest last month, so he kept a plan B up his sleeve just in case she finished out of the top 10.

Her story attracted media attention and support from the community, which began a furious effort to vote her design into first place. Her car design, “Niki’s Ride,” received 19,454 votes within a week, which wasn’t enough to win, but Niki finished in 12th place after competing against nearly 80,000 national entries.

Her dad couldn’t let her story end with such disappointment.

Lester, along with Michael Ruspil, Niki’s Special Olympics coach, and Bud Pruess, owner of Bud’s Signs, came up with an idea to have the family’s silver 1998 Pontiac Grand Prix fitted with a vinyl car wrap that would make it a nearly exact replica of the yellow pace car she designed for the contest.

The car will feature pictures of her friends and family and will call attention to Down syndrome, the disorder with which Niki lives. It also will display pictures of Niki’s athleticism during the Special Olympics.

Lester plans to pick up Niki on May 4 in the new “hot rod” and lead a caravan of supporters to Lincoln Park, where she will compete in her second Special Olympics.

In addition to friends and family, the Blue Dot Car Club plans to join the ride from Shelledy Elementary School to Stocker Stadium.

But ... shhhhh ... it’s a surprise for the little girl.

“I think she’s going to go bananas,” her father said while imagining Niki jumping up and down in excitement to see her NASCAR design come to life.

The idea to have Bud’s Signs design the custom car wrap came from Ruspil, who recruited the help of Pruess.

“I think this is going to be absolutely awesome, because she dreamed of a car and this community has a big heart,” Ruspil said.

Ruspil said the car might bring attention to the Special Olympics and Down syndrome at a number of other community events this summer, such as the Mike The Headless Chicken Festival in Fruita.

“It will really show the face of an athlete to people who may not have noticed before and show them how much someone like her can do,” Ruspil said.

Bud’s Signs is reproducing the car for the cost of materials only, which is about $1,500.

A fund has been established at Western Rockies Federal Credit Union to help pay for the custom design job. Any funds collected over the price of the car wrap will be donated to Mesa Developmental Services. Checks can be made to “Niki’s Ride,” care of Casey Lester, 2302 North Ave., Grand Junction, 81501.

Fans of Niki’s story are encouraged to join the caravan, which will rally at 9 a.m. in front of Shelledy Elementary.

“We never would have dreamed she would have inspired so many people, and this is our way to let people meet her and say thank you,” Lester said.


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