Ryan Vargas‘ story begins at 11 months old. That’s when the Vargas family found out that Ryan had craniosynostosis, a birth defect diagnosed in one in every 2,000 to 3,000 kids in which the bones in a baby’s skull join together, causing problems with normal growth.
Typically, craniosynostosis is caught soon after a child’s birth. Catching it later on in life can be detrimental to development. Vargas got surgery, leaving what he considers a “lightning bolt scar” around the circumference of the top of his head.
“There are different levels of severity,” Vargas tells Frontstretch. “If you ever go out and see a young infant wearing a helmet, that’s another case of a kid potentially having craniosynostosis. “They may not ever need surgery. I had one surgery.
“But then you have other folks that I’ve been able to meet through FACES [The National Cranofacial Association] or stories that I’ve heard where people are in and out of the hospital 15 or 20 times by the time they are 18 years old. That is so difficult to listen to and hear because they are no different from you and I and they want to live a normal life and chase normal dreams.”
That last thought is what Vargas wanted to bring attention to. A few years back, he messaged Kim Fox, president of FACES: The National Craniofacial Association, on LinkedIn. Vargas was interested in reaching out to the organization, hoping to bring awareness to kids with craniosynostosis.
Since then, Vargas has appeared at the FACES camp in Tennessee and has interacted with kids that are spending time away from their family, trying to give them a normal childhood.
Throughout Vargas’ NASCAR tenure, he’s pushed for FACES to be on his racecars. It was on the quarter panel of his TikTok-sponsored No. 6 Chevrolet in the NASCAR Xfinity Series in 2020 when the social media app sponsored Vargas for six races. FACES also had a presence on Vargas’ car at Talladega Superspeedway in the fall of 2022 while he was sponsored by Reddit. Thousands of that diecast have been produced and sold.
“I try to use my platform,” Vargas says. “I’m very fortunate to be in this sport. I’m here to give them that voice and opportunity to tell their story because I’m one of the fortunate ones. There are a lot more that have to deal with other struggles, whether it’s physically or mentally, and I’m trying to represent them on a bigger stage.”
The primary goal is to raise funds to help families that have somebody affected by craniosynostosis. Among that is helping cover the cost for travel, the cost of expensive hospital bills and hotel bills while traveling.
Through his work, Vargas was nominated for the 2023 Comcast Community Champion of the Year award. The other finalists included Jessica Friesen, who was inspired by her son Parker, who was diagnosed with autism, and channeled her energy into fundraising to make a difference. Max Siegel, owner of Rev Racing, was the last finalist. Through his Max Siegel Inc. Youth Foundation, which is aimed to provide at-risk youth with hope, empowerment and to show them that they can grow into healthy, productive adults with careers in exciting fields.
During Champion’s Week in Nashville, Vargas was declared the winner of the 2023 Comcast Community Champion award.
“I think the great thing about this award and the finalists is how personal it is to all of them, but Ryan, specifically,” Matt Lederer, Comcast’s vp of brand partnerships and amplifications, says. “Ryan, who went through the operation as a young child as an infant, that’s what hit home the most. It hit home with a lot of the voters.
“This was as close as it got, because we had three amazing stories.”
Lederer confirms that this year had the slimmest margin of victory in the nine seasons of the award being handed out. FACES was gifted $60,000 for its efforts, while Friesen and Siegel were both awarded $30,000 for their charities.
Since 2015, Comcast has donated to 27 different charities, surpassing the $1 million milestone.
“It’s so meaningful,” Mackenzie Bergenback, co-chair of FACES, says. “All we can see is the kids and families that we’re going to be able to support and help. We’re a really tiny organization; there’s only like two-and-a-half full-time members and then there’s a full volunteer board group.
“We put a lot of love and effort into what we do. A lot of it is volunteer work, so to be able to have that money to financially bolster all of our efforts, it’s going to make it an incredible year for us.”
Vargas knows that winning the award was one of the biggest achievements for FACES.
“This is a massive, massive, massive deal for FACES, the craniosynostosis community and all the people that are affected by this, whether they have it or their son, daughter or whoever has craniofacial differences.”
About the author
Dustin joined the Frontstretch team at the beginning of the 2016 season. 2020 marks his sixth full-time season covering the sport that he grew up loving. His dream was to one day be a NASCAR journalist, thus why he attended Ithaca College (Class of 2018) to earn a journalism degree. Since the ripe age of four, he knew he wanted to be a storyteller.
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