For Kyle Felver, one of the biggest challenges in life is just being treated like everyone else. Despite an undiagnosed neurodegenerative disease that doctors believe is mitochondrial disease, Kyle attends a mainstream public school and has chores like any other 8-year-old. He spends as much of his day as possible out of his wheelchair, until the fatigue caused by his disease sets in and he needs the rest.
According to the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation, mitochondrial diseases affect every cell in the body except red blood cells, and prevent the body from effectively converting sugar and oxygen into energy, resulting in a potential shutdown of essential systems.
The disease can take its toll on Kyle, and it's tough on him when he has to sit in that wheelchair to conserve his energy. But the rest pays off on the weekends when he can indulge his true passion: midget-car racing.
Kyle's stepfather, Tim, first took him to a racetrack near where they live in Stanwood, Wash., when he was just 2 weeks old, and a love for cars and speed was born. When he turned 5, Kyle began racing quarter-midgets – a racing format that uses cars approximately one-fourth the size of adult-sized midget cars with speeds limited to about 30 miles per hour. He can't race regularly because of his condition, but he still looks forward to whatever time he gets to spend in the car, even if he can't always compete at the highest levels.
"It's more that he's out there; he's trying; he's having fun, and it's making him happy," Kyle's mother, Stephanie, said.
Though Kyle has attended plenty of midget and sprint races, and raced his own cars, he's drawn to the larger NASCAR vehicles. His family embraced his love of the sport. Tim, who'd once served as crew chief for Dave Blaney, tried to push him toward other drivers, but Kyle kept coming back to the young NASCAR star with whom he shares a name: Kyle Busch.
The younger Kyle calls himself "slow Kyle" while referring to Busch as "fast Kyle," and wants to be able to race like Busch one day. He loves anything with the No. 18 color scheme that associates the M&M's candy with his favorite driver.
In May, before one of Kyle's quarter-midget races, the track announcer called him to the infield for a special delivery: a remote controlled miniature version of Kyle Busch's car drove up with a letter attached inviting Kyle and his family to Charlotte to meet Kyle Busch at the annual Sprint All-Star Race.
"It didn't sink in until right after he got out of his car [after the race]," Stephanie said. "Then he started asking, 'Can we go now?'"
Kyle didn't have to wait long. Four days later, he was in Mooresville, N.C., getting a personalized tour of Kyle Busch Motorsports. Kyle was in awe of Busch's shop, which was much bigger than the ones the boy had been around before. After getting an up-close look at the parts that went into building Busch's cars, the two Kyles hit the parking lot to hold an RC race of their own. At least, that was the plan.
"It looked like they were playing crash derby," Stephanie said. "At first they were trying to race each other all around and then they were trying to flip each other and run over each other. Kyle Busch just turned into a big old kid around Kyle."
The next day, Kyle took a tour of Charlotte Motor Speedway and was on pit road for All-Star Race qualifying. Busch won the pole for the race, and Kyle joined his idol in the victory circle for the celebration. Later that night, the two watched the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race from Busch's pit box, and Kyle had the chance to radio in to Busch's driver to tell him when to pit.
The weekend wrapped up with Kyle and his family watching the NASCAR Sprint Cup All-Star Race under the lights in Charlotte, the first time Kyle had been to a Sprint Cup race. Though Busch didn't win, nothing could dampen little Kyle's spirits. And Busch left his young protégé with some advice regarding his own racing career.
"[Busch] told him to just keep trying and he'll get it," Stephanie said. "He's just so happy and ecstatic about it. He's trying to talk mommy into moving to Charlotte."