NASCAR great Ryan Newman to honor Mishawaka organ donor while racing in 74th annual Lucas Oil Little 500

May 4, 2022

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Anna “Owl” Van Acker loved racing as a competitor, fan; her selfless decision to save lives to be recognized at May 28 race in Anderson, Indiana

ANDERSON, Ind. – Robert Van Acker has been around racing all his life. He started drag racing on road courses throughout the U.S. and continued racing as an adult.

His uncle, Charles, entered the Indianapolis 500 five times and started three times from 1947 to 1949. Robert remembers going to the 500 as a young man and meeting famed drivers, spending time in garages and continually learning more about the sport.

Robert introduced his wife, Anna “Owl”, to racing shortly after they married in 1998. “She loved the thrills that a fast car provided,” he said. “I took her to her first go-kart race in Talladega and she said, ‘I love this.’” Anna was intimately involved in racing as a go-kart competitor and fan for 35 years.

Anna died in May 2021 at age 55 from complications after heart surgery. She was a registered organ donor.

Her life will be honored at the 74th annual Lucas Oil Little 500 at Anderson Speedway May 28. NASCAR star and Daytona 500 champion Ryan Newman is among the entrants. He’ll be driving the Driven2SaveLives car sponsored by Indiana Donor Network, which will bear Anna’s name to honor her decision to register as an organ donor.

“The Little 500 is a prestigious, bucket list race that I’ve always wanted to race in,” said Newman, a South Bend, Indiana, native. “Raising awareness for organ donation while getting to enjoy my passion for open wheel racing is equally exciting for me. I’m even more excited to get to honor someone on my car who said ‘yes’ to donation.”

Robert is a registered organ donor, too. The Van Ackers of Mishawaka were married for 20 years and made the decision to register together. Robert remembers talking with Anna about her decision and what it meant to her personally.

“She always thought giving the gift of life was the greatest thing someone can do,” Robert said. “She loved music, owls and roses. She loved cooking and attending her club functions. But more than anything, she just loved people and would do anything she could to help anyone any time.”

Despite age or medical history, anyone can sign up to be a donor at Learn more about Indiana Donor Network.

Indiana Donor Network’s mission is to save and enhance the quality of life through organ, tissue and eye donation and transplantation. Its vision is to be a leader in organ and tissue recovery. Founded in 1987, the organization coordinates donations in 85 of the state’s 92 counties and serves transplant hospitals throughout the U.S.


About Indiana Donor Network

The decision to become an organ, tissue and eye donor is a decision to give the gift of life. Indiana Donor Network serves as the vital link between donors and patients waiting for lifesaving organ transplants, healing tissue and corneas to restore sight. The organization is a federally designated organ recovery organization and accredited tissue bank serving 85 of Indiana’s 92 counties. Its team of more than 225 dedicated professionals is committed to saving and healing lives through donation and transplantation, championing the cause through education and outreach and supporting donor families in their time of need. For more or to sign up as a donor, visit Indiana Donor Network online.

Indiana Donor Network® and the Indiana Donor Network Foundation® are federally registered trademarks.


About Donate Life Indiana

Since 1998, Donate Life Indiana has been the state-authorized nonprofit organization responsible for managing the Indiana donor registry. Its mission is to save lives by creating opportunities for all Indiana citizens to sign up on the organization’s official state registry while striving to raise awareness for organ, eye and tissue donation and transplantation through public education. For more, visit Donate Life Indiana online.


About Driven2SaveLives

Indiana Donor Network launched Driven2SaveLives in 2016 to elevate the conversation about organ, tissue and eye donation and transplantation through motorsports by honoring IndyCar organ donor heroes Justin Wilson and IndyCar and USAC driver Bryan Clauson. Both died in racing accidents and as registered organ donors were each able to save five lives. For more, visit Driven2SaveLives online.

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