Racing for a Cause
Local Boy Raises Funds and Awareness for Alopecia
When Ty Arbogast was 4 years old, his hair started falling out in spots, an early sign of alopecia. His mom Shannon assumed he was pulling on his locks, so she told him to keep his hands out of his hair. After six months, the hair loss mysteriously stopped. Last December, Ty awoke to a golf ball-sized bald spot on the back of his head and hair covered his pillowcase.
“He was freaking out,” Shannon says.
A few days later, another spot appeared. His parents took Ty to the doctor where he was diagnosed with alopecia areata, hair loss caused by an autoimmune issue wherein the body’s immune system attacks hair follicles.
“At first I was worried that it was going to keep falling out and that it was going to get horrible,” Ty says.
Nobody knew what would happen, as Ty’s physician said the condition can happen once in a lifetime or occur repeatedly. Furthermore, some people lose all their hair and others lose only clumps. Doctors told Shannon that once Ty hits puberty, there is a chance he’ll lose all of his hair. Furthermore, no one knows if the condition will change or improve. While some people remain bald forever, sometimes hair grows back and never falls out again.
Though there aren’t any treatments for alopecia, Shannon applies a steroid ointment to the bald spots. Ty also takes probiotics to try to keep his immune system healthy. To help hide his bald spots, he goes to Avon Barber Shop where Zach Short does a great job of cutting his hair to blend it and make bald spots less noticeable.
When he was first diagnosed, Ty worried about being picked on by his peers. He learned, however, to focus his energy not so much on other people’s reactions but rather on the pursuit that he loves. His passion is go-kart racing, something he’s been doing since he was 6 years old.
“I like the thrill of going fast and passing people,” says Ty, now 10 years old and in the fifth grade.
A competitive spirit through and through, Ty competes in both club and national races. His fastest speed is between 65 and 70 miles per hour.
“What he really likes about racing is winning,” Shannon says.
It should come as no surprise that Ty aspires to race professionally one day. If that plan doesn’t come to fruition, he plans to attend Purdue University, study math – his favorite subject – and race the Purdue Grand Prix.
“He has already met the guy who runs it and they told him to come on,” Shannon says.
He’s also met a bunch of professional drivers like Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Simon Pagenaud, Alexander Rossi, Conor Daly and James Hinchcliffe. Ty’s favorite Formula One drivers are Lando Norris and Alexander Rossi.
“Norris is really funny and really nice,” Ty says. “I like Alexander Rossi because he’s more of an aggressive driver. He passes all the time going fast.”
Ty’s driving coach, Braden Eves, is an Indy Pro 2000 driver.
Though there is no way to know when a bald spot may appear, Shannon has noticed that it tends to happen when her son is stressed – like when he has a big race coming up or has to race in the rain.
Ty’s home racetrack is at the New Castle Motorsports Park, though he also races at Whiteland Raceway Park and G&J Kartway in Camden, Ohio.
Ty’s 15-year-old sister Sydney is involved at the racetrack, and she maintains his tire pressure and helps out where needed.
“She’s one of his biggest fans,” Shannon says.
Ty has been involved in a couple of accidents. One time a go-kart landed on him and he blacked out.
“I had a lot of gear on so I didn’t even know what was going on until I was in the ambulance,” says Ty, who sustained an injured wrist, bumps and bruises, and whiplash.
The incident hasn’t slowed him down one bit. In fact, he’s always been a fighter.
When Ty was 18 months old, he was diagnosed as a failure-to-thrive baby.
“He wouldn’t grow,” says Shannon, noting that although Ty is 10 years old, he’s approximately the size of a small 8-year-old. He gets picked on for his size, but being smaller gives him an advantage in racing. His size also has its challenges in racing, since it takes strength to control a 250-pound go-kart rounding sharp curves.
“He weighs 55 pounds and we have to put about 45 pounds of lead weight in it for him to weigh enough to race it,” Shannon says.
For the past two years, Ty has been doing CrossFit training with a coach in order to gain strength and speed. He has also begun jiu-jitsu training because it teaches control, critical thinking, self-discipline and self-defense. Both activities have done wonders for his confidence.
When Ty first learned he had alopecia, he connected online with youth who also have the condition. One of them was a teenager from New Jersey who is an alopecia advocate. He had plans to visit Washington, D.C., to speak to congressmen about insurance coverage amounts for medicine, treatment and wigs. Ty’s mentor invited him to the U.S. capital during spring break earlier this year to help advocate, but sadly the pandemic put an end to those plans.
Ty was inspired, however, to use his condition as a platform to help others. When he races, he wears an alopecia shirt that he designed, and sells them to raise funds for the National Alopecia Areata Foundation.
Ty, who was born in Alabama, moved to South Carolina and then to Indiana at age 4.
“I’ll probably live [in Hendricks County] for the rest of my life,” he says. “Though I would like to live in Italy someday, because of the racing and because it’s a beautiful, nice country.”
To view some of Ty Arbogast’s racing footage, visit facebook.com/TyArbogastRacing.