With a spark plug wrench in my back pocket, I ran the length of the long Redding straight stretch and met him while he stood and stared at his machine. With the engine just lightly seized, I offered to help him try to start it and he accepted. I grabbed the back bumper and top of the kart seat, Ernie - a hand on the steering wheel and also one on the seat... we picked the back wheels off the ground and, after a few quick steps dropped the (still hot) rear tires on the ground and he jumped in the kart while I kept running behind - pushing as hard as I could on the "F-I-S-H-E-R" emblazoned in bold orange and black letters on the back of his white, Bob Agness leather racing jacket. The engine lit quickly and he drove away with a wave. Little did I know that I would be the owner of that very racing jacket in a year or so and MY name would be on the back...
Later that same day, Ernie noticed that I was working on my kart alone and graciously offered his help, any time I needed it.
That day was nearly 40 years ago and Ernie and I have been close ever since. With my father having died in an auto accident when I was 8 years old, Ernie filled a void in my life that he would not realize until decades later. We spent a decade racing together (and doing our share of winning) and remained friends even when I could no longer race (due to college, jobs, life, etc.).
Vintage karting started becoming popular in the early 2000's and one day Ernie surprised me with a call asking me to drive his kart at a local event and ANOTHER decade of karting was born! I could write a book on the times we've spent together around karting - but we didn't need go-karts to have a good time.
Following a mild heart attack, approximately a year ago, Ernie was diagnosed with COPD and has been struggling with heart and lung issues ever since. We had become involved in vintage karting (even as founding members of one of the vintage karting clubs) and spending more time together, in recent years... several of us knew that Ernie's health was deteriorating, but we could not have foreseen just how bad his health, in fact, was becoming.
Mid February of this year (2018), Ernie was flown by helicopter from his home in Gualala, CA - unconscious and soon-to-be intubated. This was hospital #1 where he nearly died three times. A few of us went to see him as we knew that we may not get another chance. After 6-8 weeks, and several attempt to remove the tube keeping Ernie alive, one last attempt was made to see if Ernie would breathe on his own... Miraculously (I think it's because of how stubborn he is), the tube was removed and he was able to breathe on his own.
Shortly afterward, he was transferred to hospital #2 - also intensive care, but monitoring and a pre-cursor to rehabilitation, if possible. Those of you who know Ernie well know that he is a proud man, so you understand how difficult it was for him to have to rely upon others to help him with everyday tasks that we all take for granted. Lots of really difficult stories during these hospital stays - he was stronger than I, likely, would have been, in the same situation.
Hospital #3 soon followed and rehabilitation begun. It was during this stay that Ernie would suffer food poisoning that almost sent him back to the ICU and two (count them, TWO) bouts with pneumonia as his lungs were full of fluid. After all he'd been through, we were beginning to think we may still lose him...
Hospital #4 turned out to be the right place at the right time. Good doctors and staff, clean facility and nearly 4 months later he was released. Something like 60lbs lighter and definitely looking uphill at what he would consider "feeling good."
It wasn't long before hospital #5 had to happen and Ernie had a stint inserted in (what the doctor called) the "widowmaker" artery in his heart. He left #5 feeling better, but with the knowledge that he needs further surgery.
While in the hospital for all these months, Ernie's insurance lapsed and the bills piled up, unpaid. He had to move out of the damp environment that he was living in, in Gualala and resources have been drained and our good friend Ernie is completely overwhelmed with medical bills, attorneys calling about this and that, hospitals bothering him for payment, etc. etc.
Personally, I feel extreme joy to be able to talk with Ernie and spend time with him as I thought it was likely I would never speak with him again, after visiting him in hospital #1 and not even being able to speak with him. However, it kills me to see the situation he is in and that I cannot HELP him to a degree anywhere NEAR what it would take to give him some well deserved rest and allow him to stop struggling and focus on GETTING HEALTHY.
I know there are so many people who love Ernie and, as much as neither he or I like to do it, we need to ask your help getting Ernie and his family out of this deep financial hole.
This is my first time starting a GoFundMe account, but never has there been a better cause. Please contact me, Mike Ray, with any questions at the address, below.
Thank you very much for your time,
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