Philanthropy in any form is noble, though not always newsworthy, but when it travels at a top speed of 170 miles per hour with a Pebble Beach caddie behind the wheel, well, that requires closer inspection.
Where to even begin? Maybe here: If a self-described ski bum had not broken his back in a snowboard accident in Vermont in 1998, the philanthropic entity, Racing to End Alzheimer’s Foundation, would not have existed and contributed more than $100,000 to two prominent charities, the Nantz National Alzheimer Center and the UCLA Cognitive Health Clinic, in 2018 alone.
The ski bum was Nick Galante, who doubled as a golf bum in summers on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. “It kind of scared me,” he said of his breaking his back. “I thought, ‘if I get out of the hospital and I’m OK, I’ve got to do something with my life.’”
He ruled out running for president and becoming a rock star or a golf professional, he said, and settled on chasing a dream, learning to drive race cars. A friend suggested he go to Monterey, Calif., which has a race track, Laguna Seca, 10 minutes from Pebble Beach.
“That’s where I’m going,” he said.
He drove cross country, took a job at Pebble Beach Golf Links, then became a caddie there, while learning to race and eventually doing so professionally.
Enter Phil Frengs, founder and president of Legistics, a Southern California concern that provides support for law practices around the world.
Maybe 12 years ago, Frengs was playing in the Captain’s Cup at Pebble Beach. For the second round, at Spyglass Hill, Galante was assigned to caddie for him. Frengs, preoccupied with navigating the difficult opening holes there, kept conversation between him and Galante to a minimum.
“As we were walking up number six, I finally said, ‘Who are you, how is that you are here?’ He explained he was from Massachusetts and came to Monterey. He knew he could work in golf—his father was a teaching pro—and he knew he wanted to pursue his passion for race car driving.
“He’s a good enough salesman that he convinced me that my company ought to sponsor him.” A partnership was formed and Galante became an accomplished driver.
In 2013, meanwhile, Frengs’ wife was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. As the disease progressed, he wondered what he might do to mitigate his helplessness. He already had demonstrated an altruistic nature. A past president of the Southern California Golf Association Junior that promotes the game to under-served kids in the region, he hosts an annual tournament at Pebble Beach to raise funds for scholarships for the program participants.
Frengs came up with the idea of raising money by offering, for a $250 donation, to put the name of a loved one who has Alzheimer’s or had died of the disease on the race car for the final race of the season. In the initial year, 2017, 77 signed on, and Frengs’ company matched the donation, allowing the foundation to donate $43,500 to the two charities.
“At the end of that season, I figured out this actually works,’ Frengs said. “It felt good. It felt like I was able to do something in the face of my wife’s illness.”
In 2018, he expanded efforts at raising funds and CBS’ legendary sportscaster Jim Nantz embraced the cause. Nantz, who founded the Nantz National Alzheimer Center in honor of his father who was stricken with the disease, recorded a video for the Racing to End Alzheimer’s website.
Frengs is continuing the effort in 2019, though now the names will go on the number-23 car immediately, so that by the end of the racing season the car, hopefully, will be covered, bumper to bumper, with names.
Galante, meanwhile, has his own goal: “To be invited some day to play in the AT&T National Pro-Am, and to play as a celebrity.”
He already is a celebrity in his racing circles, but more importantly for his role in kickstarting the Racing to End Alzheimer’s Foundation.
“It wouldn’t have happened,” Frengs said, “if it weren’t for the broken back.”