Girl hopes artwork will be on race car

Niki Lester, 10, shows off the NASCAR car graphics she helped design at her home in Fruita. She has Down syndrome and that is what the car’s graphics are designed around.



Niki Lester’s custom NASCAR race car design.



The Grand Junction community is revved up over a custom NASCAR racer designed by 10-year-old Niki Lester.

She designed the graphics for a NASCAR prototype as part of an online contest sponsored by Toyota Racing. Her car design features pictures of her friends and family, and it calls attention to Down syndrome, a disorder with which Niki lives.

The winning design will be determined by online voting, and it will be replicated on the pace car in May at the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Her story first appeared on GJSentinel.com’s Mobile Junction blog last Wednesday.

Niki’s father, Casey, has vowed to do everything he can to help make his daughter’s dream of winning the contest come true, and his efforts have inspired people in the community to help.

Landon Balding, director of the local Dreams For Kids Network, first saw the story as a link on Facebook.

“After I read it, it touched me,” Balding said, “and I really didn’t think it would be that hard to get more votes.”

He decided to use his knowledge of social networking sites and his Web savvy to help gather as many votes for the cause as possible. He created an easier-to-find Web site, Nikisride.com, to help get the word out about the online voting.

Balding said his organization believes all kids deserve a chance to make their dreams come true.

“I think it’s pretty cool that the community is rallying to support her,” Balding said.

Other local media have featured Niki’s story this week, including local radio stations and television networks.

Brooke Ray, of the Fruita Health Club, created a fan page on Facebook.

“She’s just a really good girl, and to see her get her dream would be great,” Ray said.

The Facebook page is titled “Vote for Niki’s Car” and provides an up-to-the-minute link for fans to follow the online voting effort and all of the media buzz.

Dave Allgood, a disc jockey with The Vault 93.1-FM, interviewed the Lester family Tuesday afternoon for his weekly news segment, The Allgood News.

“It’s a good story,” Allgood said, “and the bottom line is that this parent really connected with his child who has Down syndrome. I think they bonded, and that’s always good news.”

Even Niki’s classmates at Shelledy Elementary are trying to help. Monday the school sent a notice to all parents encouraging them vote and help her win.

“She was so excited, waving the paper when she got home from school,” Casey said.

As of Tuesday afternoon, “Niki’s Ride” had nearly 3,000 votes and was ranked No. 37 out of the more than 80,242 entries in the contest.

“To be this close. I just keep asking myself, ‘What more can I do,’ ” Casey said.

He is pleading to the public for 11,000 more votes in the next six days. “If we could just get 10 percent of Grand Junction to vote once,” he said.

He said he has explained to Niki that “winning is a long shot,” but she’s hoping her car at least is selected as a top-10 finalist. Those designers will receive a racing helmet printed with elements from their car designs.

“That’s not an impossibility,” Balding said, “We just really need people to rally behind her.”

A second round of online voting will take place in April among the top 10 finalists to determine the winner.

If Niki wins, her family would receive an all-expenses-paid trip to the race in May, and she would get to ride shotgun in the pace car on the first lap.

“I think she would just have a ball,” Casey said.

To vote for Niki’s car, visit http://www.nikisride.com. A link there can direct you to the voting. Each computer is allowed one vote per day. The contest ends March 30.


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