A Talent man who died in December took the NASCAR ride he'd always wanted on Friday, his family said.
"Big George" Bernard Helms loved NASCAR racing, but at 6-feet-5 inches and 400 pounds, he couldn't fit in a race car.
When Helms died Dec. 28 of a heart attack at age 54, a group of his friends set out to breathe life into his dream to participate in a NASCAR race.
"His friends came up to us during the memorial service and asked us if they could take his ashes to the NASCAR race," said Helms' mother, Dixie Helms of Phoenix. "I said 'He'd love that.' "
Last Thursday, his friend, Mara Brodeur of Medford, approached race car driver Mike Harmon at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway and asked him to drive Big George's ashes around the racetrack, according to a Saturday report by ESPN.
Harmon agreed. He took the urn and taped it to the fire extinguisher of his Nationwide Series car during the practice session Friday, ESPN reported.
Harmon told ESPN he could hear someone squealing when he went through Turns 1 and 2.
"I swear I did," ESPN quoted Harmon as saying. "I heard a noise I've never heard before. It happened just one time, through Turns 1 and 2."
Brodeur phoned Helms' family afterwards, including his mother, two brothers and five sisters.
"It put tears in my eyes," said Helms' younger brother, Allen Helms, of Phoenix.
Helms, a career logger, went every year with Bob and Mara Brodeur and a group of others friends to a NASCAR race. Mara Brodeur could not immediately be reached Monday for comment.
Helms, who never married, had purchased tickets before he died to attend the race in Las Vegas and reserved a spot for his camper.
He had loved NASCAR since his youth, his mother said. He and his father, Bernard Helms, who died in 1987, used to watch car races together. When Helms was in his 20s, he worked in the race track pits in Ashland.
As Helms grew older, sitting for long periods of time at a race and riding his Harley-Davidson motorcycle became increasingly painful, Allen Helms said. He had arthritis, which was exacerbated by his weight, his brother said.
"The doctor told him he needed to lose weight, but he never did," he said.
Helms' friends also spread some of his ashes on the speedway in Las Vegas. The remainder will be returned to Dixie Helms, who plans to keep his urn in a curio cabinet he kept at his home on Wagner Creek Road.
"I miss him a lot," Allen Helms said, as he stroked his brother's pet Pomeranian, Bella. "I couldn't ask for a better brother. He was there for me all my life."
Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or firstname.lastname@example.org.