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MOORE, Okla. (KFOR) – The thrill of the race is what keeps stock-car enthusiast, Zack Oliva coming back to the Southern Oklahoma Speedway week after week.

Recently, the 22-year-old from Moore sat down with his mother to page through family photo albums with pictures of his lifetime of races and trophies. He was just a young boy when his dreams of racing were put to the side due to a chronic and terrible cough.

“I can remember I’d get in these coughing fits when I’d run around, play around,” recalls Zack. “One night it started getting really bad. I started throwing up. I couldn’t really catch my breath. I didn’t feel good at all.”

Those coughing fits kept happening for a couple years and although his doctors diagnosed him with asthma, his mother suspected something else was going on. 

Mom, Deauna Oliva remembers, “I just had a motherly instinct that it wasn’t asthma.”

One night, Deuana stopped at their local hospital and asked for a chest x-ray. That was their first glimpse of the real cause of his discomfort.

It was an aggressive, cancerous tumor called a neuroblastoma.

Deauna says, “They couldn’t believe that it was a large mass under his right side. It was as large as a baked potato. It started at the spine and vined down like a cantaloupe or a watermelon. And it had pushed his lung up so small which crimped his bronchial tube and that’s what was making him cough.”

Within days, Zack was in surgery where doctors at OU Children’s Hospital found another, albeit much better, surprise. The tumor had cut off its own blood supply and was not spreading.

“He did not have to have chemotherapy or radiation,” said Deauna with a smile.

Nearly 17 years later, Zak is an avid stock car racer. He doesn’t just compete for himself. He’s determined to also help others fighting cancer.

“It’s not just because I’ve been there. I have been there,” says Zack. “I know what they’re going through and most people don’t. It’s a connection that really only the people that know is the people that have it”

Zack races to win, but the definition of winning now includes a mission to benefit the Friends of Jimmy Everest Cancer Center.

“We all auction stuff off, we sell t-shirts,” said Zack. “We do everything that we can to raise money for the Jimmy Everest Center.”

Zack is also racing in memory of a friend from Kingfisher who lost his battle against cancer at just 8 years old. Jase Bollenbach‘s death was a blow. 

“This year is not just for me, it’s going to be for Jace,” says Zack. “It’s going to be for the Jimmy Everest, everybody. It’s not just my championship.”

The annual “Race for Time” Fundraiser is Saturday, September 17. It starts at Ardmore’s Downtown Depot Park with a free music festival featuring the Red Dirt Rangers and Edgar Cruz on guitar.

There’s also a car show, followed by an evening of racing.

And if you’d like to help children and their families fight cancer, consider donating to Friends of Jimmy Everest Cancer Center.