Cars help father cope after son's suicide
Mark Cain shows off his V8 tattoo, created by his son Shelby, who committed suicide in 2009. Cain is sponsoring the Hullabaloo event Saturday. (David Brockemail@example.com / August 26, 2012)
Just like his dad Mark, Shelby Cain had some motor oil coursing through his veins. An avid racer who competed across the region from go carts to midget class cars, Shelby also liked to take things apart and put them back together to make one-of-a-kind creations.
"He loved everything about it," said Mark Cain, who lives in Lexington, but has deep local roots.
At a young age Shelby was chasing his dream of following in his fathers footsteps by running his own custom auto shop. He parlayed his skills into Shelby's Speed and Kustom.
Shelby committed suicide in Dec. 2009. He was 23.
"I just missed it, like a lot of parents and people do," Cain said, his voice still grief leaden. "I was with him just a few hours before it happened and I didn't see it (coming)."
When someone kills themself, the aftermath is teeming with unanswerable questions. Loved ones are beset by a wide range of emotions, while those on the outside often struggle to provide counsel or comfort.
The Cains’ shared passion has taken on new meaning.
Hot rods may now offer a way for Cain to heal — to the extent a parent in his position can — and help others before and after similar tragedy. Instead of turning inward, Cain has turned to the garages, tracks and car shows where he and Shelby spent so many hours together. Cain is co-sponsoring this year’s Hullabaloo on Dillehay Street, a hot rod-themed festival in Danville next weekend, to help spread suicide awareness.
Following Shelby's death, Cain left a corporate job with S&S Tires and took over at Shelby's Speed and Kustom. In addition to carrying on his son's professional legacy, he has tried to spread awareness about one of the few remaining taboos in American public or private discourse.
"It's not the same kind of pay by any means, but it's another kind of passion and there's some comfort because there is a need for providing this kind of service," Cain said. "Suicide has such a stigma attached to it, that it gets in the way of people talking about it."
According to Kentucky Suicide Prevention Group, the state loses more than 600 people to suicide each year. The state's suicide rate ranked 23rd in 2009 and it is the second leading cause of death for people between 15 and 34 years old.
Looking for a way to reach people with that information and for ways to help, Cain realized he had a tight-knit community in racers and hot-rodders to help spread the message.
In 2009, some of Shelby's friends put together a drag race and car show in Clay City, Ky., in his honor. Cain took over lining up sponsorship for the event going forward and started "Shelby's Racin' for a Purpose" to help disseminate information about suicide.
Not satisfied with only reaching people at races, Cain started traveling to car shows of all sizes with "Shelby's Hot Rod Roundup." At each show, Cain chooses cars Shelby would have liked and presents the owner with a hand-made trophy of the "V8" symbol his son had tattooed on his left bicep. Cain added the tattoo to his arm, too, in memory of his son.
Along with the trophy, Cain also disseminates information about signs that someone is suicidal, facts about suicide and 1-800-273-TALK, the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
There is a Christian component to Cain's message, which reflects the importance of faith in his life, but he emphasized that he hopes to reach anyone who may be hurting or have a family member in need. Cain espouses the value of listening to and "loving on" people who may be having a hard time, but he said he also knows they need to know where to find psychiatric help.
Cain sets up a booth to sell "Shelby's Way" T-shirts and talk to people. So far the reception has been mostly positive, with a couple people sharing their stories and showing their appreciation at every show he has been to.
"My hope is that people will go back to their friends in the hot-rod community and talk to them about it and it will go from there," Cain said.