When Life Gives You Lemons

Three lucky raffle winners have taken home Mazda MX-5 Cup cars while helping raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for Lemons of Love

In 2017, Lemons of Love, Mazda Motorsports and Long Road Racing first worked together to give away a Mazda MX-5 Cup car in a raffle to raise money for the charity that sends out care packages for those going through chemotherapy cancer treatment and operates a cancer resource center. Lemons of Love has now given away three race cars, and will soon be selling raffle tickets for the fourth, which will be given away next year.

“The car raffle was my wife’s idea about four years ago,” explains Long Road Racing principal Glenn Long of wife Alana, who recently lost her own battle with cancer. “Alana and Jill Swanson Peltier discussed the idea at VIR when we were just showing the pre-production MX-5 Cup car to the world.” 

Lemons of Love was founded by Swanson Peltier, whose career had been in the racing industry, in 2014 after she was diagnosed with stage III colon cancer. As she began chemotherapy, a friend gave her a bag filled with items to ease her time in treatment. She decided that everyone going through chemotherapy could use such a care package and began Lemons of Love to deliver such items to cancer patients throughout the world. The MX-5 Cup car giveaway has been a big source of funds for the charity in recent years.

Former MX-5 Cup competitor Drake Kemper was the first winner, followed by Daniel Miller and Mitch Bender. MazdaMotorsports.com caught up with the winners to find out what they’re doing with the cars, and their future plans.

Kemper was the 2014 MX-5 Cup Mazdaspeed Pro Challenge champion while working as an instructor for Skip Barber Racing School. He used the scholarship money to compete in Idemitsu MX-5 Cup in 2015, then bought an ND to join the series again for 2016. When he won the car in 2017, he really had no plans to race MX-5 Cup that year because he was racing in the IMSA Continental Tire Challenge. 

“When I first won the car, I sent it to Sick Sideways to use as a rental,” Kemper, who also works as a driver coach, says. “It didn’t get much rental usage, but John Dean II used it at Road America, where he didn’t have the best of luck. I hopped in it for the 2017 MX-5 Challenge race, where I also didn’t have the best luck and tubbed it completely. We sent it back to Long Road Racing to get recertified after Sick Sideways rebuilt it, which was quite an arduous process. I took 2018 off from racing except for Portland, where I hopped into my old primary car, and the 2018 Challenge race, where I finished second by 0.09sec in the Lemons car and thought, ‘Hey, maybe I could hop back in this.’”

Consequently, for 2019, Kemper had the car upgraded to ND2 specs and returned to Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich full time, and it seems to be paying off since he is leading the championship by three points over Selin Rollan after six rounds.

“Five out of six podiums – not bad,” he says. “I haven’t had a race finish outside of the top five, plus a race win.”

In the next installment we’ll take a look at the 2018 and 2019 winners of the Lemons of Love raffle. To learn more about Lemons of Love, see www.lemonsoflove.org, and to buy tickets for the next raffle, keep an eye on this page.