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The Drive Against Cancer

February 2, 2010, 10:05 PM by Don Jorgensen

The Drive Against Cancer
Thirty-five years ago, John Sweeney fell in love. He admits, she wasn't perfect, but Sweeney knew she had a lot of potential.  So he bought her for $1,800.

Obviously, we're not talking about his wife, Mickie. He married her two years later. We're talking about his 1962 Corvette convertible. 

"It's really a classic design.  I looked at a number of cars and I looked at this one and the price was right so I just got it," John said.

Mickie liked it too. In fact, they had their first date in it. 

"Oh, I married him for the car.  He's a really cute guy and handsome anyway, but when I saw that car, yeah, I want this guy," Mickie said.

The two always had dreams of restoring the Corvette, but just never seemed to have the money to get it done.

"The way my wife and I view it is my toys come last. You know there's the house and other cars, contact lenses and braces and things that have to happen. So it just kept sliding to the back," John said.

John would drive it, but it mostly sat in the garage collecting dust. Then just last summer, John's life took an unexpected turn down a rough road that steered him into the doctor's office. 

"They called me up two days later and said, 'We are going to get you with an oncologist because you have cancer,'" John said.

Not just one form of cancer, but two: colon and rectal.

John's dream of restoring his 1962 Corvette once again had to take a back seat as he began his treatment for his cancer.  Any thoughts of restoring his 'Vette appeared way down the road until someone had an idea.

Bernie Tyrell of Autabuy, a national muscle car magazine, got the wheels rolling on a massive volunteer effort. They were going to completely restore John's Corvette for free.

"I went to Siem's tires and said, 'Would you put a set of wheels on this?' and he said, 'Absolutely.  You got a great project.  It's local.  It's a cancer victim.  It's a project you don't run across very often,'" Tyrell said.

They began ripping it apart, removing the engine and sanding down the fiberglass body to be painted. 

"It looked like an old '62 Corvette that didn't have much for TLC, just old paint rickety and faded," Cody Oines of Abra said. 

"It's basically the sun that did most of the damage to the paint.  The paint was cracked so it had to be completely stripped, so you throw that in there and that's where most of the hours were spent stripping.  And with fiberglass, it's not fun working with it because you're itchy scratching, not fun," Scott White of Abra said.

The primer paint goes on first. 

"That first coat sealed the primer.  There's a lot of primer on there to make that car beautiful shiny straight through smooth, that kind of a thing," Tyrell said.

Then comes the red paint.

These painters had never met John before, but were stilling willing to take on the job.  A job that would have to be done on their own time. 

"No hesitation, just something nice to do in the community.  Feel sorry for the guy and hopefully he enjoys this car," Oines said. 

"A lot a lot of nine to midnights during the weekdays.  Last week, we were here between the two of us, Monday through Friday 9 p.m. to 12 a.m. almost every night.  Many, many other nights before that," White said. 

"I don't know what I did to deserve this.  It was always just at the bottom of the pile for spending money.  I spent enough to keep it running and safe, but nothing to make it pretty. It makes me feel really great because I figured it would be up to my kids to restore the car," John said.

Mickie has a tough time expressing her gratitude to all those who are helping make John's dream come true. 

"It was just a blessing to John and I think just because he's a good guy and he's been good to people all his life and what you do out there in the world comes back to you so," Mickie said.  "It's a Master Card commercial, you know.  It's priceless.  It's priceless." 

They estimate when the car is finished it'll be worth $70,000.  Executive Touch is going to be redoing the interior next.

As for John's health? He's still undergoing chemotherapy treatments.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
An earlier version of this story named the wrong business that donated tires to the project. Siem's Tire and Service in Sioux Falls provided the tires for the Corvette.

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