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Sherry Pollex, NASCAR Champion of Philanthropic Efforts, Dies at 44

Sherry Pollex's family announced news of her death on Sunday.

By Andrew Woodin
Sherry Pollex kneels next to the door of a racecar that says 'Sherry strong' on it

Sherry Pollex, known within the world of NASCAR for her philanthropic endeavors and as the former partner of Martin Truex Jr., has died. She was 44. 

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Despite being diagnosed in 2014 at age 35 with Stage 3 ovarian cancer, Pollex was never going to let that define her. Instead of languishing with the daunting reality and alarming statistics behind her disease, she channeled her diagnosis into being a powerful instrument of change, galvanizing the NASCAR community with her philanthropic efforts to fight a disease that has taken so much from so many.

Prior to announcing her own cancer battle, Pollex, a native of Marshall, Michigan and graduate of Florida State University, spearheaded the founding of Catwalk for a Cause in 2010, a charitable fashion event that rallied the stock car racing industry around the ongoing war against childhood cancer, according to NASCAR. Since its inception, the philanthropy, has raised more than $4 million to fund medical initiatives to fight the disease.

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Upon Pollex’s diagnosis, according to The Martin Truex Jr. Foundation's website, the organization refocused its mission to “raise awareness, boost advocacy and generate financial support for underfunded cancer initiatives specific to childhood and ovarian cancers” – a debilitating form of the disease for which Pollex has said there have been few advancements in treatment and care over the past three decades.

“That’s why I’ve become such an advocate for my disease, because it needs awareness and they need people to talk about it — and nobody does,” Pollex told The Athletic in 2022. “If I can help somebody else behind me who is going to be diagnosed, then I need to do that. I need to take the chance to be that person.”

That chance turned into a lifelong calling with her former partner, Truex Jr. The charitable foundation for 2023 NASCAR Cup Series Regular Season champion sports a logo that integrates a gold ribbon, representing childhood cancer, intertwined with a teal ribbon, representing ovarian cancer, which are both positioned on their sides to embody the race tracks Truex Jr. competes on.

Still, despite the progress she made with Catwalk for a Cause, Pollex’s mission in life was incomplete, and after undergoing a hysterectomy, debulking surgery and 17 months of chemotherapy, the unwavering fighter launched on her 37th birthday, partnering with Novant Health in Charlotte of 2020 to open the Sherry Strong Medicine Oncology Clinic. The multi-tiered goals of the initiative are to empower women to understand their bodies and recognize symptoms of ovarian cancer while endowing them with information about how “integrative and holistic practices may complement conventional medicine,” per Pollex’s biography for The Martin Truex Jr. Foundation.   

Martin Truex Jr. and Sherry Pollex, pose for a photo with the trophy in Victory Lane

While Pollex was unable to attend this year’s edition of the Catwalk for a Cause that was held last Wednesday, the event’s moderators acknowledged her monumental contributions in the battle against cancer, emphatically declaring the health champion as “an absolute hero” amidst the roars of the crowd’s standing ovation. She and Truex Jr. both received the National Motorsports Press Association’s Myers Brother Award for outstanding contributions to stock car racing in 2017, and Pollex was also a finalist for the Comcast Community Champion of the Year Award in 2022.  

In commemorating her life, one overflowing with an unparalleled commitment to impassioned service, NASCAR released the following statement: "NASCAR is saddened to learn of the passing of Sherry Pollex, whose fight against cancer and determination to help others through the Sherry Strong Foundation was an inspiration to all who knew her. NASCAR and the NASCAR Foundation’s thoughts and prayers are with Sherry’s family and friends."

As a daughter of the Wolverine State and bona fide Detroit Red Wings fan, Pollex, who enjoyed yoga, cooking, hanging out with friends and chasing sunsets with her dog, Charlee, said she forged a genuine love for NASCAR through her father Greg Pollex, who raced Late Models on Michigan dirt tracks before going on to own the championship NASCAR team, PPC Racing.

Though she was given only a 30% chance of survival over the five years that subsequently followed her diagnosis, on January 11, 2016, in an electrifying public message, Pollex provided others battling the disease with a boost of encouragement when she rang a bell at the end of her 17 months of chemotherapy.

Sherry Pollex poses in front of a SiriusXM step and repeat

“I wake up every day and just have so much gratitude and joy for this life that I’m living, even though I have a chronic illness,” Pollex told Jeff Gluck in 2019. “And it’s so hard. People ask me all the time: ‘I don’t get it. How do you stay so positive, and how are you happy all the time when you have Stage 3C ovarian cancer?’ And I wake up every day and just think this life is amazing. If you look around you, there’s so much positivity, and there’s so much beauty in this earth. The people who want to make a difference and want to inspire each other — there is a lot of us if you look for us.”

Despite her resiliency and incredible demeanor, doctors discovered that Pollex’s cancer had returned in September 2021, and further scans showed that her aggressive, difficult-to-treat strain had spread to one of her lungs.

As disheartening as the news was, like the cancer-fighting ambassador and former North Carolina State University men’s basketball coach Jim Valvano preached, Pollex, a woman of immense faith and moral fiber, refused to ever give up in the face of adversity, cementing her legacy in the battle against the disease while making her a beacon of hope for all those who may struggle with a cancer diagnosis of their own.

“I often wonder if that’s my purpose here,” opined Pollex to The Athletic in 2022. “It’s maybe not what I would have chosen for myself — nobody really wants to be the poster child for any type of cancer — but maybe I’m supposed to go through all this so I can pave the way for other women. On some days, that can be a really hard pill to swallow. But on other days, it’s like, ‘You know, I’ve been given this really important role in this life, and if I’m going to leave a legacy behind and help other people, then I need to do it 100 percent.’”