Larry Whiting’s race to prevent youth suicide

Grand Bend Speedway team in memory of his late son is a way to help others

Larry Whiting formed the Derik Whiting Foundation in memory of his son, who took his own life in 2006 at age 24. Derik was an avid racer at the Grand Bend Speedway, and Larry Whiting has started a race team to help stop other youth from sharing Derik’s fate.

As told to Casey Lessard
Photos by Casey Lessard

Amanda Welsh is this year's team driver for the Derik Whiting Foundation race team.
When the small oval track opened in Grand Bend, I was the track manager and I took Derik out. He was 14 or 15 years old and he used to park the cars in the parking lot and then he got to watch the racing. He kind of got the bug and wanted to do it. This was 1996. We raced for 10 years, starting with 9 HP mini-sprints and to the mini-trucks. We raced Peterborough, Sauble, Delaware, into New York. But our home track was Grand Bend.
Derik’s best friends were racing. When he thought he could start racing, he was so excited and wanted to get in the race car and run it. I remember we bought a brand new race cart from Cambridge, and the first time I told him, “You race at your own pace; don’t worry about the other people.” He was out there, and it was his second time out. He did about 18 laps and his buddy passed him and he decided he’d keep up with him. About two laps into it, I got up to the guard rail to tell him to slow down, and just as I got there, he slammed into the guard rail. He wasn’t hurt, but the cart sure was. The first thing he said to me was, “I know, I should have listened to you.”
From then on, he became a good, cautious driver. He won a few awards for sportsmanship, and I believe that should be number one in any sport. It’s not all about winning; it’s about having fun in what you’re doing.
We had a lot of fun. We raced for a lot of years. He wasn’t a good racer at first. It took four or five years, and when we got into doing mini-truck and he started doing the work on the truck, that changed him around. He got through more wrecks because he knew that if he didn’t, he had to fix it. His last three years of racing were his best. He finished second to Louis Desjardine his last three years, and made a lot of friends at the track. Those kids still keep in touch with each other.

He said he was going to hang up his helmet in 2006. He wanted to try some other stuff. He was working for me doing some property management, and was in the process of getting a truck on the road. He had gone through school for tool and die, and had passed with flying colours. His school had five awards, and he won all five. I think it was because I told him that if he flunked, he was paying for it, and if he passed, I would pay for it, so he made sure he passed.
He had a job working in tool and die for a short time in Strathroy, but it was the beginning of the crunch and they were laying people off. He struggled to get a job in the industry and came back to work with me in maintenance.

It was May 29, 2006. It was the morning, and I was working at the medical centre around 8 a.m.. I used to have another shop with my friend Rick Maguire. Rick called and said, “Can you come over to the shop?”
When I got to the shop, Rick met me outside and told me that Derik had hanged himself. It was hard to believe. First you think, no, it didn’t happen. I put reality together and knew it had.
I was dumbfounded. Lost. I did go in and look. I felt I needed that to know that it really happened. Then the police showed up.
At the funeral, I didn’t realize he had so many friends. Jim Hoffman told me it was the second largest funeral they’d had. I can understand it because he was so well liked.

I don’t think there’s a day that goes by that I don’t think about him or wonder why. He was a vibrant young man who loved life and made the best of everything he did. People called him a greeter because he was so friendly. He was the life of the party. We were all very shocked when it happened because, to this day, we don’t understand why.
It was a real shock to the family. He did leave a letter to the family that he was tired of crying himself to sleep, which we found very shocking.
A depression that’s held inside is the worst kind. If he had reached out to my wife Marlene or myself, or to his sister, or to someone at the medical centre where I work, that might have changed something.

It took about six months before I came up with the idea for the Derik Whiting Foundation. Derik was working on saving the ball diamond, so I took that on. It was something I would never have done, but Derik started it, so I felt I had to finish it. So far, with Bud Desjardine and Vince Bury, we’ve got that done. We put an ad in the paper and in the first year, we had 35-36 T-ball kids. Today, we have five traveling teams and still T-ball. The diamond’s still there. The diamond’s used so much now, we have actually taken over Dashwood for the bantams, and hopefully we’ll add two more teams, the midgets and mosquitoes.
A few people commented that Huron County has a higher than average suicide rate. I realized there weren’t a lot of programs for kids to hear about this, and I felt I had to do something. I knew how much Derik liked getting into the race car, and thought this was a good way to get kids who were having a rough time in life, or couldn’t afford it, into a race car. Give them some self-esteem and help them get over that hump in life.
A year passed, and another. We got the charitable status, but didn’t have the funding. We’re at the stage now where we have enough funding to buy a race truck and get kids into the program. We don’t just race. It’s a program where they learn mechanics, auto body, all the way down to writing stories for the local papers and taking pictures, speaking, announcing at the track, and so many other things. If one likes mechanics, we’ll try to help get that person into a garage or school for apprenticeship. Same with auto body or photography. And provide counseling while they go through the program.

We have three kids in the program now, Amanda, JJ and Jason. Amanda is driving this year and we’d like to put another car on the track next year.
We don’t pick people off the street to be part of this. They have to be in a counseling program. They’re being counseled because they’ve either made an attempt on their life or they have a real rough life. If the counselor feels the person needs a boost and is stable enough after counseling, that person can come to us and be part of the program.
We welcome any volunteers. We are looking for people who would be interested in helping the kids. Over the next winter, we would like to build the trucks, so when they get on the track next year, they know they’ve built that truck.
The end goal is that if I can save one person’s life, I’ve accomplished it. I’d like to do more than that. I have a feeling we will do a lot more than that, and that the program will grow. The future doesn’t have to involve racing. They could build a house. Let them do it and learn that they did something. That they’re part of a team. That’s what it’s all about. At the end of the day, the team did it.

I feel like I’m doing something for Derik. I miss his smile, his jokiness, his little smirk. I miss everything about him. I totally miss him. I miss him every day. It’s been frustrating getting this foundation going, and I think he’s the only one keeping me going. It was at a point about a year ago that I almost gave up on it. I’m glad I didn’t, because now we have some kids – team members – in the program, and it’s really satisfying knowing I could be helping save their life.

Larry Whiting would like to acknowledge the support of the team’s sponsors: Prosper’s Garage, Mike & Terri’s No Frills, Track21 Graphix, MacTools, Four Seasons Performance, MacFadden’s Welding, TNT Security Systems, Warwick Collision, and Glassford Chrysler.