Thursday, September 9, 2010

Student by day, race car driver by night

September 9, 2010
Cranston Herald
All text and photos by Jen Cowart

NEED FOR SPEED: Bobby Pelland, pictured here in his Cranston home, is a student at Cranston West and a Rookie of the Year racecar driver on the weekends.

Bobby Pelland seems like any other student at Cranston High School West. But, at the end of the day when many of his classmates are hanging out with friends or working their after-school jobs, Pelland can be found at the races.

Venture out to Seekonk Speedway racetracks on a Saturday and you’ll find Pelland in his late model race car, racing, with his family cheering him on.

At 17 years old, Pelland is a rookie in the racing circuit, having only started racing two and a half years ago. However, he’s risen right to the top of his racing division, taking the Rookie of the Year award his first year out, and now is just a few laps away from taking it again in his new division.

“I finished second in my third race of my rookie year,” Pelland recalls. “At age 16 I was the youngest in my division. Some people race for 10 years and only win one or two. It’s hard.”

Pelland didn’t have any interest in racing during his younger years, even though his father was also a race car driver.

“But then they changed the racing age to 15, and that was when we first heard him talk about it,” said Pelland’s mother, Paula.

Now, it’s how Pelland spends all of his spare time when he’s not in school or studying.

“The average upkeep is two nights a week, unless you have a wreck the week before,” said Pelland.

He has had a couple of wrecks, his car becoming airborne and crashing, but nothing too bad so far.

According to Paula, it’s difficult to watch her son race and not be nervous about him crashing, even having a husband who is a racer as well.

“I get nervous when he races. I’m used to it with my husband, but it’s totally different when it’s your son,” she said.

Each Tuesday and Thursday evening, Pelland and his dad drive to the race shop in Cumberland where the car is kept, and work on it.

“We go through four tires a week,” said Pelland, noting that each tire averages $150 to replace, and other expenses include traveling and gas, which costs $10 per gallon.

He is not completely on his own to cover the expenses he incurs when racing. He has several sponsors, and as he gets better, he hopes his sponsorship will increase as well.

“There are two ways you can get sponsors,” said Pelland. “You can show them a resume or you can be approached by someone with a team who asks you to race for them, [called getting a ride].”

He is hoping to get a ride and be able to race on a team for a sponsor in the near future, and is looking into colleges now as well.

“We’ll see where this takes me in the future,” he said. “I’m young and I have plenty of time.”

For the time being, Pelland is focused on the start of the new school year and his racing. He is going to try racing in the American Canadian Tour next, which is a step up from where he is right now.

“That’s the best drivers I can race with, having the kind of car I have now,” Pelland said.

Although he is one of the younger racers in his division, he’s happy there. Currently there are two other racers Pelland’s age, and the rest are in their 20s and 30s.

“My dad has always told me that if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best. I could be racing mini races with kids my age, but I like it where I am,” he said.

Heroes of Sept. 11 inspire McGrath's art

September 9, 2010
Cranston Herald
All text and photos by Jen Cowart

REMEMBERING THE HEROES: Marion McGrath poses next to her depiction of Father Myke Judge being carried out of the wreckage on Sept. 11, 2001. The painting has been on display in several states since its completion.

Generations of families have known Marion McGrath as the director of Carriage House Day Care center, which is located on Shaw Avenue in the Edgewood section of Cranston. Thousands of children have passed through the center’s doors since it opened.

Still, more residents know McGrath for all of her hard work and advocacy as an Edgewood resident.

However, few people realize that McGrath is a talented painter whose paintings have been featured in exhibits up and down the east coast.

Having grown up in the World War II era, with two sons who were policemen, McGrath was drawn to the tragedies of Sept. 11, 2001 in a very personal way.

“I was watching the Today Show and saw those planes crash. I saw the people jumping out of the towers,” she said. “I was drawn to every image at that time. I couldn’t leave the television set sometimes. I’d turn it on in the middle of the night. This was such a tragic event for our country.”

McGrath was struck by the fact that the policemen and firefighters at Ground Zero were “ordinary men doing extraordinary things.”

She saw a photo of several firefighters pulling the lifeless body of chaplain Father Myke Judge out of the wreckage and knew she had to paint that image. The priest had been ministering to the injured and dying firefighters when he suffered a heart attack and died.

McGrath said she visualized what she wanted to do for her painting and asked her art instructor, Delores LaCassio, if she thought it could be done.

“She said I could do it,” McGrath said, and with that, she began painting.

From the start, McGrath felt the images flowed easily onto her canvas. Although she never knew Father Myke, McGrath said she’s learned so much about him since she began her painting.

She painted the images of the exhausted men carrying Father Myke Judge, and then in the shadows behind, a cross can be seen and a ray of light shines through the smoke and soot. McGrath purposely left the background gray, never adding any colors to the rest of the painting.

“That ray of light touches each and every one of them in the picture,” McGrath said. “I wanted to depict that even in this wicked tragedy, we still have faith that something better will come along.”

As word got out about McGrath’s painting, people stopped in to watch her progress. When the painting was done, she kept it on exhibit in Fort Meyers where she spends her winters.

As the anniversary of the tragedy approached, however, McGrath wanted to take her painting to New York City and show it to the Franciscans and the firefighters who had known Father Myke.

“One of my fears was that it would be so reminding of the event, that I had great anxiety about how it would be received. I didn’t know if it’d be received well or if it would be too emotional, too reminding,” she said.

“It was a very emotional meeting,” she recalled of her visit to Ground Zero, the Franciscans and the firehouse. “They looked at the painting in the trunk of my car and said, “This is not like all the rest.”

Word of the painting traveled and McGrath was asked to display her painting again, this time in Boston at the St. Anthony Shrine for the Sept. 11 commemorative prayer service being held there in 2002. She was also featured in a documentary out of England.

Currently, the painting is in McGrath’s home here in Cranston, where she keeps it in between exhibitions.

McGrath had no interest in learning to paint until she took her very first painting class in October 1999.

“My sister-in-law, Barbara was bringing this artist to Fort Meyers for a class. She needed 10 people to sign up for the class in order for it to run, so I signed up,” McGrath said.

McGrath remembers some frayed nerves at the thought of going to a painting class with no prior painting experience.

“I had nightmares for three nights before,” she said.

Once in the class, there was a great deal of information and technique to take in, but McGrath was a fast learner.

She has since completed several more paintings, which are displayed in her home and at Carriage House. Although she’s proud of all her work, few have the emotion and meaning that her 9/11 paintings have.

“By having done this painting, it’s brought so many people into my life that I wouldn’t have known before,” said McGrath. “I honestly believe that things were meant to be and this is what I was meant to be doing.”