- Uftring Auto Group is gearing up for its second annual road race event, partly to challenge employees to get in better shape and partly to help a charitable cause.
- The Uftring Auto Group Get in Gear Race and Tailgate Event is set for September 28.
- The race benefits the Central Illinois Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired.
EAST PEORIA, Illinois — At Uftring Auto Group, Chief Financial Officer Kirk Johnson takes his employees' health very seriously.
They are the impetus behind the founding of the Uftring Auto Group Get in Gear Race and Tailgate Event. The second annual race happens this year on September 28.
The race benefits the Central Illinois Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired. The organization received more than $14,000 from the inaugural race.
Uftring Auto Group has seven dealerships in greater Peoria, selling 11 brands: Ford, Nissan, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram, Jaguar, Land Rover/Range Rover and Subaru.
Johnson told Edmunds that he was interested in putting on a physical-fitness event because he wanted to help the dealer's 480 team members build healthier habits. Keeping healthcare costs down was one reason, he acknowledged, "but at the same time, I want them to have a much better way of life."
Johnson cited one 73-year-old employee who set a goal of walking 10,000 steps a day and lost 25 pounds.
"As I told other team members," Johnson said, "if a man his age can make that change, what's preventing a 20- or 30-year-old from living a life of better decisions about health? Come and walk a mile with us, can't you?"
Last year, Johnson said, more than 150 team members and their families participated.
"We'll be healthier as a group, and that's what I really care about," he said.
Why is the group for the blind his event's beneficiary?
Johnson explained that the idea came from an employee member of Uftring Auto Group's volunteer team, the Uftring Ambassadors, who do charitable projects. One of them told Johnson he'd like to do something for the blind because his mother, who was blind, lived in California and he couldn't do much to help her.
Johnson located the local center for the blind and in 2011 the auto dealer put on a Christmas party for the organization, which they had never had before.
"There wasn't a dry eye among our team members," Johnson said. "We've been blessed a lot and we can help a lot of people."
It has become an annual tradition that Uftring Auto Group will repeat again this Christmas, he said.
Johnson, working with race director Philip Lockwood, decided that the road race event should benefit the charity. Johnson challenged the Central Illinois Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired to send visually impaired clients to participate.
"Sixteen or 17 walked with us, using canes, walkers, and guide dogs," Johnson told Edmunds proudly. "One girl about nine years old walked a mile with her hand on her aunt's shoulder."
As an added benefit to the funds raised for the charity, Johnson said, "Now they have started focusing on their own fitness and wellness. Many of these sight-impaired people have never done" (this kind of exercise program before), he said.
Edmunds says: A big dealership gets its people moving for a really good cause. Who can't get behind that?