Driving for victims Volunteers, at-risk youth prep older Porsches to race as tribute to Emanuel 9

Volunteers and Carolina Youth Development Center staff who helped revamp two Porsche 944s for a LeMons race are (from left) Josh Stolarz, Dr. Bob Stonerock, Joe Gerdom, JahSun, Brett Perryman, Connor McIntyre, Dr. Joe Carastro, Dave Derecola, Mark Aeppli and Jonathan Georgas. Many wore T-shirts emblazoned with the CYDC Motorsport team logo.

The LeMons South fall race next weekend at Carolina Motorsports Park in Kershaw will assemble its usual mix of jaded jalopies, backyard “beaters” and aged speedsters that get docked for showing off their pedigree.

However in this year’s semi-serious event, where all cars are cheap but the racing’s for real, there will be three models from Charleston with stories to tell.

A 1999 BMW sedan painted with colorful designs will make a repeat appearance after its uplifting debut in 2014, when at-risk juveniles from Carolina Youth Development Center in North Charleston joined with auto experts and volunteers to overhaul the rusted-out coupe and ready it for the LeMons series event (The name is a play on cars as “lemons” and on the iconic French race at LeMans).

In January, the local Porsche Club of America chapter donated two 944s from 1985 and 1987 model years to the CYDC. The teens went to work, leaning on Cummins Turbo Technologies engineers and Porsche Club mechanics as mentors in the center’s Cummins-sponsored Auto Lab.

Still making final adjustments, the gear heads and youngsters recently unveiled the two sports cars, each showcasing special murals. A joint effort of two friends — one an artist and the other an engineer — the murals’ powerful images memorialize the June 17 shooting of parishioners at Emanuel AME church. Each of the nine killed victims’ names appears somewhere on both Porsches, on a door, the roof, a headlight guard, the hood. Next to each title is a simply drawn flying dove.

One car shows the Ravenel bridge at sunset, the other at sunrise. On the driver’s side panel of both Porsches, black and white faces in a show of racial unity look up at the church, admiring the worship hall’s oyster-shell colored frame and towering steeple.

The tragedy hit close to home at Carolina Youth Development Center, located on tree-lined Lackawanna Boulevard in North Charleston’s center. Residential counselor Anthony Thompson’s wife Myra Thompson was one of the nine people killed at the church.

CYDC’s LeMons racing supporters were searching for a theme to recognize the 944s, said Connor McIntyre, a Cummins specialist who helped organize the BMW repair work and race participation in 2014.

A couple of months ago, a solemn yet timely and appropriate idea struck him: honor the Emanuel 9. “I woke up in the middle of the night,” he said. McIntyre called local artist JahSun, who put paint to automotive canvas last year with the BMW. “JahSun and I are really close friends,” he said. The artist said it took about two weeks to create the designs and paint the two roadsters.

“We didn’t even draw it out,” said JahSun, who called the artwork “an organic process. On some level,” he says, the effort seemed “spiritually based.”

CYDC has contacted Emanuel AME church officials about the memorials. Also notified was the city of North Charleston. “They know what’s going on,” said Brett Perryman, director of leadership for life at Carolina Youth Development Center.

The Porsche automotive transformations were the result of unifying forces. Companies gifted $20,000 in parts and other assistance, McIntyre said. A number of Porsche Club of America members as well as Cummins technicians pitched in regularly. Up to a dozen youth at the center took part in the makeovers, including stripping the derelict 1985 Porsche of all its interior parts in a day. The crews infused the 31-year-old Porsche with a new found energy, while reinvigorating the newer 944, which had been raced until four years ago.

Bob Stonerock with the Porsche Club quipped that the extent of his involvement was supposed to be to “push things forward,” but he ended up working on 2.5-liter, four cylinder engines and other heavy duty projects.

Fellow club member Joseph Carastro praised the youth development teens for what they took away educationally speaking. “Every time we were there,” the students showed “true enthusiasm and interest,” he said.

Some of the auto lab learning and training translated into personal results for the teens. “I was at my job and an RTV (a type of all-terrain vehicle) had a flat tire,” says one girl, 16, who took part helping to change tires on the Porsches. She took out the jack, helped mechanically hoist the RTV and switch out the tire. Before then, “I never knew how to change a tire,” she says.

As a precautionary measure, Carolina Youth Development Center does not disclose the identities of the underage youth to the general public.

In an interview Wednesday, a 15-year-old said he learned that the Porsches, reconfigured safety wise for racing, command more than a simple seat belt. “They’ve got six locks,” he said. “The roll cage is in there.” He called his time in the auto lab “a good learning experience.”

The auto training offers practical tips on such things as brakes and wheels, a 17-year-old said. “Now you don’t have to pay anybody to do it,” he said.

The near-adult also was impressed with the artist’s skill on the Porsches.

“JahSun did an awesome job. It was an excellent mural,” he said.

The trio said they plan to attend the races in Kershaw. “It’s just a fun day,” Perryman said.

Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or jparker@postandcourier.com.