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Twin Falls toddler dreams of life as pro racer

Only 4 years old and fighting a rare kidney diease, Brayden Thorne is given a chance to "race" against his heroes.

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By Brian Smith
The Times-News
  • Brayden Thorne, 4, pulls ahead of the other racers at the Magic Valley Speedway in Twin Falls, Idaho on Saturday. Kris McKean, one of Thorne's favorit...

    The Times-News / Drew Nash

    Brayden Thorne, 4, pulls ahead of the other racers at the Magic Valley Speedway in Twin Falls, Idaho on Saturday. Kris McKean, one of Thorne's favorite drivers, customized the boy's Mustang to look similar to one of his own cars.

  • Brayden Thorne, 4, talks to Kris McKean, right, and Jim Hall, before they race at the Magic Valley Speedway in Twin Falls, Idaho.

    The Times-News / Drew Nash

    Brayden Thorne, 4, talks to Kris McKean, right, and Jim Hall, before they race at the Magic Valley Speedway in Twin Falls, Idaho.

TWIN FALLS, Idaho -- Brayden Thorne put his feet on the railing, his 33-pound body pulling on the fencing.
The 4-year-old watched Saturday from afar as race cars gathered at Magic Valley Speedway.
There was the red No. 14 car, and the black No. 7 car. And in the middle, a slightly smaller car.
"That's my car out there," Brayden said pointing and looking at his father, Glen.
The boy with the mohawk wants to be a NASCAR driver. When he drives his Power Wheel around his neighborhood, he smiles and relaxes. It's a temporary relief from the complications brought on by his rare kidney disease.
Hydronephrosis, they call it. But to Brayden, it means daily medication, throwing up often, passing 10 kidney stones in a year and undergoing seven surgeries so far.
"It always hurts, and I always don't feel good, and, and, and I don't like it," he said. "It doesn't stop me."
That's right, said Glen proudly.
Although his son's condition comes with many complications and his growth and development are clouded, the family lives for today. They don't worry about it.
Brayden, smaller than many his age, plays football and wrestles. If you didn't know, you couldn't tell he has a disease.
But step into his room, and Glen points out a difference between Brayden and his 6-year-old brother, Quinn.
"You see what is missing on this side of the room?" he said. "Trophies and ribbons. He doesn't have anything.
"Saturday is going to be his first, but he doesn't know it."
Ask Brayden how it feels to be 4, and he gives a quick answer -- "bad."
He wants to be 7. That's the number painted on the side of his Power Wheel. It also happens to be the car number of Kris McKean, a prominent local racer who frequents the Magic Valley Speedway.
When McKean walked around the corner Saturday, Brayden ran to him, his Spiderman shoes pounding the metal stands, and hugged the racer's legs.
When Glen mentioned that Brayden didn't own a trophy, McKean decided to have a staged race so the boy could win against McKean, Jeff Peck and others in his Power Wheel, making him king for the day.
"I'm not doing it for me to look like a good person," McKean said. "I'm doing it for them to have something to look back on and think, 'That was pretty cool.'"
Brayden likes the bad guys. In Spiderman, he cheers for Venom, Peter Parker's nemesis.
Unfortunately, McKean said, some local race fans feel he fits that bill. When the Thorne family started coming to the speedway, Brayden began cheering for No. 7. They didn't know who was in the car, but they all joined in.
"Someone out of the stands said, 'Why are you rooting for that guy?"' Glen said.
"I remember at one point (Brayden's) dad got hit in the head with a lighter because he was cheering for me," McKean said.
A few years ago, the 23-year-old McKean got on the wrong side of the law, driving a car into a liquor store. He said few have let him forget, including himself.
"Being young and dumb," he said. "It wasn't too long ago, but I was going through a harder time in my life and it just took a swift kick in the butt to get me going back in the right direction."
McKean said he is learning from his mistakes and realizes some people look up to him at home and on the track.
A quick bond develops between youngsters and their favorite racers. McKean never forgot one from his youth who drove a black and yellow car and gave out Batman stickers.
As a gift to one of his biggest fans, McKean took Brayden's big wheel, painted it black, added a No. 7 sticker and placed miniature sponsor logos all over it.
Doctors don't know if they will ever be able to fully correct Brayden's problem. Glen said he doesn't want to bring any extra attention to it.
"Because he really doesn't care about it, we just let him do what he wants to do," Glen said. "He's a rough and tough kind of kid, but he's ultra-sensitive.
"When he was 3 years old," Glen said choking up. "He told me he didn't want any more surgeries. He's 3. What dad wants to hear that?"
McKean, who has two children, said he can't imagine what Glen is going through.
"He comes off a little overbearing, but I can't say I wouldn't be the same way in his situation," he said. "He's just trying to do what's best for his kids. You do what you can."
About 2 p.m. Saturday, Glen asked Brayden if he would let someone else race his car. Brayden, looking through the fencing, said, "No," and his father laughed.
His son, growing concerned, nudged him.
"Nothing is going to happen to your car," Glen said. "That's your special car. See, it looks just like Kris's car."
The two walked down to the track, and Glen let Brayden walk ahead. He grabbed a helmet McKean placed on his car, put it on, and struggled to lift his head. Racers, family, members of the media chuckled and took his photo.
Then Brayden got serious.
"I'll take it easy on you," he told McKean, drawing more chuckles.
The engines started, the green flag waved, and off Brayden went. He crossed the finish line and didn't look back. He kept going. And going. And going until his father called him back.
"This is the coolest thing I have ever seen," Glen said.
Peck and McKean hung a ribbon around Brayden's neck and gave him a trophy. It said "Best Little Racer."
Grinning, Brayden rode back to the pits in Peck's car. Glen followed on foot, leaned against the railing and watched his son interact with the racers. The father couldn't stop smiling and talking about the race.
"Did you see the start?" Glen said. "He peeled out."
Information from: The Times-News,

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