Marcelo Vine

Marcelo Vine was recovering from surgery after having a cancerous kidney removed and battling for his life as the cancer had spread to his lungs. He faced months of surgeries and treatments with no guarantees that doctors could stop the rapidly advancing cancer.

Vine told himself he wanted to beat cancer so he could be with his wife Sofia, fish in South America, fly an airplane and to win a national championship in auto racing. Doctors encouraged him to look forward rather than focus on the dire medical situation he faced in early 2017.

“My doctors told me you need to go back to racing, because that’s going to help you because you miss it so much, you need it,” Vine said. “It’s kind of a mental thing that you’re doing that is going to help your body feel better. Racing is something that I love a lot, so being able to do it again is amazing.”

With the cancer in remission, Vine was back on the track and almost got a National Championship, earned his pilot’s license and recently returned from visiting family in Chile. He did everything he promised himself during the early stages of the cancer fight. Now Vine is trying to help other cancer patients beat the odds.

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“I share my story, my success with other cancer patients,” he said. “I’m helping other people, kind of a pay it forward.”

Vine admits his prospects for survival weren’t good after going to the doctor because of a fever, vomiting, night sweats and weight loss. Specialists found a 12-centimeter tumor on his left kidney and stage IV lung cancer. After having surgery to remove the cancer, Vine entered immunotherapy clinical trial that halted the cancer. He also worked with a nutritionist to radically change his diet, cutting out red meat, sugar and milk to focus on healthy meals.

“Today I feel better than before cancer,” Vine said. “Eating well, healthy and exercising can do miracles.”

Vine’s fellow 944 Spec racers in the NASA SoCal region were glad to have him back on the track too. Charlie Buzzetti has had his share of thrilling races against Vine, who won SoCal’s 944 Spec class in 2018.

“We’re both very competent drivers, and I really look forward to spending the time at the track and on-track together,” Buzzetti said. “There’s never any hard feelings about who wins and who doesn’t because we know that we’re both putting out 100 percent and nobody is holding anything back.”

The 48-year-old Vine has been racing since 2003 and laughs about his first race school, where he drove a first-generation Mazda RX-7 and won. “I said, ‘I really got what it takes,’ then I went into my first real event and I finished second to last,” Vine said. “It has been a lot of work to get where I am today.”

Vine joined NASA in 2009 and started racing the RX-7 in PTE, but decided to change classes because he wanted tighter competition. That’s when Vine joined 944 Spec and it was the perfect fit for his competitive nature.

“I like the classes where all the cars are the same, tires are the same, it’s pretty much the setup of the car and the driver that makes a big difference,” he said. “That’s the classes I like to drive in.”

Vine in 2018 won the 944 Spec class in the SoCal region and was excited about racing for the National Championship at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. Growing up in Chile, Vine was a fan of Formula 1 racing and was eager to race on the same track as the legendary racer Michael Schumacher.

It was a storybook weekend for Vine, who dominated the track and thought he had won his first National Championship. After taking the checkered flag, Vine was overcome with emotion and hugged his wife Sofia, who was his caregiver through the cancer fight and longtime supporter at the track.

When his Porsche went through tech, inspectors found a non-stock part on the front suspension and Vine was disqualified. Vine protested but to no avail.

“Obviously that stings. We worked really hard to win the race and to be where we were,” Vine said. “It was like a big punch in the gut. I understand rules are rules. It is what it is, so at the same time, we’ll just get up and keep fighting, just like I did.”

Tom Dragoun, who maintains the car for Vine, felt bad that the part cost his friend and client a National Championship.

“The ruling was that I made a mistake and put a piece on I made for the car,” said Dragoun, who owns 7’s Only Racing shop in Buttonwillow, Calif. “Even though it didn’t change anything, geometry or performance wise. It was something I kind of misread the rules.”

Dragoun expects Vine to once again be in the mix at this year’s National Championships at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and he plans to deliver him a perfect racecar. “He knows I’ll give him the fastest car I can give him,” Dragoun said.

Longtime racer Peter Hopelain expects his friend will be in the mix at this year’s NASA Championships, but will face some tough competition, especially from racers who regularly run the track in Mansfield, Ohio. But other racers should be careful not to dismiss Vine. “Racing against Marcelo is an absolute chess match,” Hopelain said. “It just makes it so exciting to race against guys like that.”

Asked if he has seen any changes in Vine since his cancer fight, Hopelain said that Vine doesn’t take his health for granted and has reached out to a couple of 944 Spec drivers who are cancer survivors. For Vine his focus continues to be on diet and exercise to keep the cancer in remission.

“I compete and I love to win, so cancer is like another race,” Vine said. “It’s a very long race ,but it’s one that I’m obviously winning.”

Name: Marcelo Vine
Age: 48
Region: SoCal
Hometown: Lakewood, CA
Racing Class: 944 Spec
Sponsors: Pro Low Voltage/Security Specialists
Day Job: Self employed
Favorite Food: Seafood
Favorite TV show: “The Simpsons”
Favorite Movie: “The Matrix”
Favorite Book: NA
Favorite Track: COTA and Laguna Seca
Dream Racecar: Formula 1
Images courtesy of Steve Cabana and redlinephoto.com