Joey Logano’s acts of kindness build lifetime bonds with families
AVONDALE, Ariz. — Gavin Grubbs and Joey Logano have been friends so long that Grubbs says it’s hard to remember when the champion driver wasn’t a part of his life.
They first met in 2010 when Grubbs was 8 years old and Logano was 19. That meeting was arranged by the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Logano flew to Harrisburg, Arkansas, to meet Grubbs, diagnosed with muscular dystrophy when he was 6 months old, and invite him to the Daytona 500.
Their friendship grew. Grubbs attended test sessions in Memphis, Tennessee, when Logano’s Penske team was there. Gibbs and Logano texted and talked often. They spent more time together.
“You want to surround yourself with just good, wholesome people,” said Logano, who will start from the pole in today’s Cup championship race. “That’s what I want around me, somebody that’s real.”
Grubbs served as a groomsman in Logano’s wedding, was at Homestead-Miami Speedway when Logano won the 2018 title and surprised Logano by introducing “my friend” at the NASCAR banquet in Las Vegas after that season. Grubbs also attended the 2020 championship race in Phoenix Raceway when Logano fell short of winning the crown.
While Grubbs will be back at Phoenix for today’s race, another family impacted by Logano will watch NBC’s broadcast (3 p.m. ET) and hope he wins a second Cup championship.
These are among the special connections with Logano that saw encounters with him turn into bonds that resonate years later. It makes Sunday’s title race even more meaningful to those families.
“I pray they win,” Jodi Rupp says of Logano and his No. 22 team.
She is the mother of Ashleigh Hunt, who was diagnosed at age 19 with osteosarcoma, a bone cancer.
“It kept getting a little bit worse and a little bit worse,” Rupp said of her daughter’s condition. “Then she was told maybe you need to start focusing more on quality of life than quantity.”
That’s when her daughter started to come up with bucket list items she wanted to accomplish and posted them on Facebook. Her list included items such as a trip to New York City, zip liningand attending concerts, sporting events and NASCAR races.
Logano found out about the list and provided Hunt and her family with a private jet to New York City and accommodations in 2016. Ashleigh and her family saw a Broadway play, attended “The Tonight Show” with Jimmy Fallon and visited Central Park, among other things. The memories remain special to Rupp.
Ashleigh passed away April 5, 2018, at the age of 24.
Logano and his foundation built a park in June 2018 in Louisville, Kentucky, and although Ashleigh was from Ohio, a bench was dedicated to her in that park and included her picture.
When he won the Cup title in November 2018, Logano wore a hat during part of his celebration that had “Prayers for Ashleigh” on it.
“As a parent, I want to keep her memory alive, but for somebody else to do that, it means 10 times more,” Rupp said. “(Joey and wife Brittany) have meant so much to our family. I really don’t know how to express that.”
Mindy Grubbs relishes the friendship between her son Gavin and Logano. She struggles to find the words to explain what it means for people to see her son for who he is instead of someone confined to a wheelchair.
“(Logano’s) parents raised him in a way that made him emotionally and intelligent enough to understand that there were people who were different and there was value in all different kinds of people,” Mindy Grubbs said.
That her son and Logano are friends isn’t surprising to her.
“Their personalities are so very similar,” Mindy Grubbs said. “Both are really quirky, little bit nerdy, extremely intelligent, extremely driven and very observant and perceptive about the people around them.”
Logano said knowing Gavin Grubbs and others that he’s interacted with through the years, has made an impact on him. As he spoke, he wore a team cap that was signed by Jonah Williams on the inside of the bill. Williams attended race day with Logano in 2017 at Charlotte Motor Speedway as part of the JL Kids Crew program through the Joey Logano Foundation.
“It’s been fun to see (Gavin Grubbs) grow up,” Logano said. “Also him just handling his challenges, it’s enlightening. It’s a perspective that’s different. I’ll never understand. You think of just his life and the challenges that come his way by being stuck in a chair.
“Also, his attitude that goes along with it. That’s what I take from it. He doesn’t want to be treated any different than anybody else. Unfortunately, people do. With us, he doesn’t get treated any different, I promise you that. We give him a hell of a time. He wants that, right?
“It’s just like you are with any of your friends, you give each other a hard time, joke with each other.”
Gavin Grubbs, now 21 and a junior at Arkansas State University, will give as good as he takes with Logano.
“I don’t think either one of us realize the impact the other one has made on the other because it’s felt so normal as life-long friends,” Grubbs said.
But what if they hadn’t met? Make-A-Wish children often are asked for multiple wishes just in case their first wish can’t be fulfilled. Grubbs’ first wish was to meet Logano in 2010. His second wish? A trip to Alaska.
Had the Alaska trip been his first wish or the one that could be fulfilled, Grubbs admits his life would have been different. He’s gotten to know several people in the Cup garage - from competitors to officials and media members - and wants to be involved in the sport after graduating from college.
“I wouldn’t have any of the friends I gained from NASCAR,” Grubbs said of what life would have been like had his wish been the Alaska trip.
“I want to do something in sports media, hopefully in NASCAR, partially because I know so many people that are involved in it, that I feel at home when I go to the racetrack. This is what I want to do the rest of my life.”