NASCAR CEO Brian France and his wife, Amy, met with a handful of children being treated at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York on April 26— with a surprise appearance from NASCAR mascot Champ the Cheetah.
The couple — who have two children of their own, 6-year-old twins Luke and Meadow — spent the day crafting race cars with severely ill children and racing them down the hospital’s hallways.
“This is a part of the fabric of NASCAR,” the CEO tells PEOPLE. “Kids love cars, ours included! It’s a nice distraction for these very difficult situations these kids are in.”
Adds Amy, “This tugs at our hearts because we are parents. These kids have so much strength.”
One of those children was 10-year-old NASCAR fanatic Jake Bonforte, who began experiencing seizures at the age of 4 and was diagnosed with epilepsy.
He has spent his life in and out of hospitals, sometimes enduring 100 seizures a day.
“Race cars are really cool,” Jake, of Ocean Township, New Jersey, tells PEOPLE. “They go so fast!”
His mother, Cindy Bonforte, says her son is taking his health struggles “in stride.”
“He’s hoping doctors can stop his seizures,” Cindy tells PEOPLE. “Jake tells me ‘Don’t worry, they’re going to fix this. We can figure it out!’ ”
Jake also met with rising NASCAR star Matt Tifft, who underwent brain surgery for a tumor last year.
“He’s so cool!” says Jake.
The Frances say they encourage all NASCAR racers to give back to causes close to their hearts.
“I’m so proud of what our drivers, like Matt, are doing,” says Brian France, who recently accepted the Corporate Honoree Award on behalf of The NASCAR Foundation at the KiDS of NYU Langone’s Springfling Gala on April 27. “Kids love meeting our drivers, and if it can distract them from their hardships, that’s great.”