BUSTI - The jerseys of high school football teams from around the area dotted Stateline Speedway on Saturday night for the first ever "Race For Damon" event in honor of Damon Janes.
A native of Brocton, Damon was a junior when he lost his life following a collision during a Westfield-Brocton football game last September.
Following Damon's death, members of his family worked to create the recently established Damon Janes Foundation, which was founded to bring awareness to traumatic brain injuries and sports safety.
Photo by Scott Reagle
Local high school football players help open the “Race for Damon” at Stateline Speedway on Saturday.
Considering Damon's love for motocross and racing, there was no better place to pay tribute to his memory and raise awareness for head injuries than the dirt oval on Kortwright Road.
"Stateline typically does get involved in local charities in the extent that, when there is a connection with racing," said Jay Pees, the track's public relations director. "The Damon Janes connection is his great-grandfather was a racer here back in the '50s, '60s and early '70s, so that is a connection with Dick Gilbert."
Like so many of the racing families that have been heading out to Stateline on Saturday for generations, Damon came from a lineage that loved to go fast.
Gilbert's cars, often painted with his signature No. 10, were a common sight flying around the Stateline oval during the heyday of local racing.
Damon caught the family racing bug at a young age - and despite playing football, soccer, basketball and street hockey - riding motocross was always his favorite passion.
"(Damon) was very active in sports, and he loved everything that he did,;he put his all into everything and was a big fan of racing," said Penny Gilbert-Robinson, Damon's' mother and Gilbert's granddaughter. "He was big into motocross; that was his favorite thing to do. As a little boy, we used to come over here (to Stateline) and watch and he would just love it."
Opening up the evening's racing was an announcement by track announcer Dan Moore, who offered the fans some history on Damon's life and his love for sports.
The announcement was followed by an invocation by Chautauqua County Legislator Ron Lemon, as well as a presentation of the American flag by football players from around the area.
Following the national anthem, it was Gilbert-Robinson who told the racers to "start your engines" and begin the action.
"What they are doing for us and honoring Damon, I can't say enough thank you's," Gilbert-Robinson said. "If this is something that they can do (in the future) that would be fantastic; anything that we can do to bring attention to injuries and safety and sports, that is what our push is."
Racing was once again a family affair for the Damon's on Saturday, as Damon's father Dean Damon's entered his first-ever race at Stateline in the second heat of the Super Challenger class.
Dean, like his son, raced motocross for years, but never had a chance to climb into a car at Stateline until Saturday evening.
"He has raced motocross before, and his friends put a challenger car together for him and he's going to try oval for the first time," said Gilbert-Robinson.
In putting together the Damon Damon's Foundation, it was Dean Damon's' goal to help change safety precautions for sports injuries, and that is a goal that is already being achieved.
On Aug. 11, a bill sponsored by state Sen. Catharine Young, R,C,I-Olean, was signed into law that strengthens the Concussion Management and Awareness Act of 2011.
Young was spurred on by the tragedy of Damon's death to improve safety standards in New York state, and has now helped to create a Concussion Management Advisory Committee to help prevent further accidents.
"That's the whole goal is to bring awareness, and that (if) there's a better way out there (to deal with injury) we need to do that," Dean Damon's said before his race. "Last weekend, (state) Sen. Young announced the new bill that has been passed; baseline testing will be mandatory now and it is a good step."
The activism of the Damon's family and the coordination with Stateline Speedway has already helped to prevent injuries to future high school athletes, and the campaign for safety won't stop there.