Lehmann races in memory of a friend

A flagman waves the green flag at Riverhead

A flagman waves the green flag at Riverhead Raceway. (July 16, 2011) (Credit: Daniel Brennan)

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C.J. Lehmann moved from Shirley to Jim Thorpe, Pa., near the end of seventh grade, worried about how he would adapt to unfamiliar surroundings. Then, on the first day at his new school, he met David Formica.

"Pretty much I was the new kid, and they didn't know what classes to put me in since it was the end of the school year," Lehmann said. "And David just said, 'Give him the same schedule as me, and he can come to class with me.' And we just hit it off."

Formica had been diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in October 2002, according to a family memorial website. He underwent 39 months of chemotherapy that resulted in a positive prognosis. Five months later, in June 2006, the leukemia recurred and on July 21, Formica died at age 15.

Lehmann, now 20 and ranked second in the Charger division, said the tragedy "didn't really hit me at the time," but as a young racer, he was determined to keep Formica's memory alive.

Lehmann moved back to Long Island in 2010 and began racing at Riverhead, where he spent his childhood watching his father. He decided to race for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, and each week, he encourages spectators to donate a dollar or two into a bucket he has set up in the pit after races.

He also helps sell bracelets in the mode of Lance Armstrong's successful "Livestrong" campaign.

Last summer, on the five-year anniversary of Formica's death, the town of Jim Thorpe dedicated a day in his honor. Lehmann brought his race car to the dedication; two days later, back at Riverhead Raceway, he raced his way into Victory Lane.

"That's when it really hit me that I'm doing something in his memory," he said. "It was a pretty emotional experience. I still think about him, and his name has always been on my car since he passed away."

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