He wasn’t kicked in the stomach when he heard his diagnosis. Ricky Rolfe didn’t go numb although any number of thoughts may have raced across his mind that day.

Rolfe remembers he looked at his doctor and asked simply, how do we fix this? We cut out a third of your colon, Ricky, said the doctor. Take a bunch of lymph nodes. Incredibly, the words were a relief. After years of breathing in the smoke from welding the race cars he builds, he feared worse.

Ricky Rolfe is a 46-year-old stock-car driver from Albany Township, near Bethel. He might have dreamed of becoming the next Stan Meserve or Ricky Craven, two Mainers who raced in the Daytona 500 some 30 years apart. In reality, he’s competitive on the regional American-Canadian Tour and a two-time champion at Oxford Plains Speedway, where everyone knows his name and the quiet toughness of his soul.

Ask Rolfe a question and you don’t get chapter and verse for an answer. A sentence, maybe two suffice. Using a driver’s highest compliment, you could race Rolfe all day, trusting him to respect you around every turn.

He interrupted his chemotherapy to race in last weekend’s TD Bank 250. His doctor wasn’t a race fan but was brought up to speed. Rolfe said he would forgo other races but not this one. He finished 10th, his second-best finish since the 2004 race when he was runner-up to winner Ben Rowe. Saturday night, Rolfe was at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway for the 150-lap ACT race.

He was told he had colon cancer in March. Actually he suspected it. His father was diagnosed with it a year earlier. A friend before that.

Racers learn quickly about what they can control in their sport and what they cannot. They apply the same awareness to everyday life. Rolfe became vigilant and when he noticed blood in his stool, he asked for the colonoscopy that revealed a tumor. On a Friday he was told he needed surgery. On Monday he was on the operating table.

The days in between? “They were a blur,” said Rolfe. “I got a little emotional. I want to live another 30, 35 years, and run way more races. I didn’t want it to end.”

He has a wife and two adult children. He builds race cars for others, lends a helping hand and is one of the sport’s more popular drivers because he asks for so little yet gives so much back. At Vermont’s Thunder Road, fellow racers passed helmets to raise money. They signed a get-well card, writing messages.

“When they gave it to me, it was pretty emotional. I knew them all as fellow racers but not as personal friends.”

Outsiders see the tempers on the track or hear the hot words when accidents happen and blame is assessed. But at the sport’s grass roots, the bonds of compassion and generosity are especially strong. Although Rolfe expects no favors on the track. “I wouldn’t want one.”

He knows racing provides his second family but the affection he’s felt has been “pretty heart-warming.”

He’s grateful that Mitch Green, an owner at Race Basics in Andover, gives him the same pay for the short weeks he works when dealing with his chemo. Green took chemo himself nearly 20 years ago. He knows the toll it can take.

“I get fatigued on the weeks I go in (to Stephens Memorial Hospital in Norway). I just had my fourth treatment. I feel fine. I’m eating. I could lose a few pounds but the doctors tell me not to.”

For such a laconic personality, Rolfe was doing a lot of talking. He wants others to know that a cancer diagnosis doesn’t mean you park your life.

“Racing is never easy. You have way more bad days than good days. But you keep racing. A lot of people tell me to slow down. I live every day full speed ahead.”

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

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