Jill and I met a few years ago. We were introduced by a mutual friend who knew I liked watches and thought I’d be impressed by the Daytona she was wearing. Now, up until this point, my only experience with women rocking Daytonas was as a fashion accessory. I’d quickly come to realize Jill wasn’t trying to be trendy and there was a lot more to Jill and her Daytona than meets the eye…
Before I knew it, Jill opened the clasp, slid it over her hand and passed it to me. Immediately I started to get a suspicious feeling I was on Candid Camera – with Jill being the only one in the audience. She nudged me to turn the watch over… It was engraved, “Rolex 24 at Daytona 2005 Winner.” I tilted the watch from side to side in awe of the etched race logo shimmering on the caseback. It’s safe to say she got the reaction she was after. But I couldn’t help thinking, “Is this thing legit?” Sensing my skepticism, Jill told me the provenance of her watch. I vaguely understood that she worked for a company that supplied parts to the winning team’s car – somehow that relationship earned her this Daytona…
I saw Jill in passing on a few more occasions and then we fell out of touch for a few years. That was until last year when she picked me out of a crowd on Michigan Avenue. We picked up where we left off – just like old friends do. When she asked me how I was doing, I plugged Watch Patina hoping she’d agree to do an interview about her special Daytona. I had a feeling watch guys would appreciate a firsthand account of this racing prize.
When I asked Jill how things were going with her, she told me she was in remission from stage III colon cancer. On that news, I pumped the breaks on talking watches and switched gears to how she was doing…
Even though Jill was playing back a dark time in her life, I never got the sense she felt sorry for herself. That afternoon on the sidewalk she was the same old Jill: friendly, outspoken, witty and raring to go… traits that have served her well running a company in the high-octane, male-dominated auto racing industry.
Jill was the marketing director for Fresh Air Systems Technologies (F.A.S.T.) until she bought the company in 2005. Before she was hired, F.A.S.T. sold one product out of the founder’s garage – a helmet with a filtration system that prevented amateur drivers from inhaling dirt from off-road courses. Jill was the driving force behind getting NASCAR drivers like “The King,” Richard Petty, to wear F.A.S.T.’s next helmet design that filtered debris and toxins associated with racing on asphalt.
The next game-changing product that F.A.S.T. improved upon and introduced to sports car racers was the “Cool Suit.” What’s a Cool Suit? It’s essentially a form-fitting shirt with tubes running through it that circulate “cool” water over the body. The system regulates the driver’s body temperature so they don’t overheat and suffer heat exhaustion. The technology promotes stamina and alertness, helping drivers perform better (i.e., win more races).
Endurance racing is one category of auto racing that places heavy demands on a driver’s mind and body. Since 1966 the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida has been home to one of the most famous endurance races in the world: a 24-hour marathon known for the last 25 years as the “Rolex 24 At Daytona.” Since 1999 F.A.S.T. Cool Suits have been worn by some of the drivers competing in this storied event – keeping them comfortable and focused behind the wheel.
When the SunTrust Bank Racing Team took the checkered flag at the 2005 Rolex 24 At Daytona, all three drivers of the #10 Pontiac – Max Angelelli (ITA), Emmanuel Collard (FRA) and Wayne Taylor (SAF) – were wearing F.A.S.T. Cool Suits underneath their uniforms as they popped champagne, hoisted the trophy and were presented with the title sponsor’s customary award – a stainless steel Rolex Daytona wristwatch.
We learned from Jill that in addition to the Daytonas awarded to drivers, Rolex also allots a dozen or so Daytonas to the winning team’s owner – all with a caseback engraving identical to the one on the winner’s Daytonas. The team owner has sole discretion over who is allowed to purchase these extra Daytonas – usually someone that contributed to the win.
Of course Jill’s contribution to the winning team was F.A.S.T. Cool Suits. But she also had another connection… Her long-time friend Bill Riley, owner of Riley Technologies, manufactured the winning car. Jill told us Bill has always been her go-to person, especially when she took over F.A.S.T. If she needed something, Bill would find the right person to make it happen. So when she asked Bill to help her purchase one of the extra Daytonas – he made it happen.
This white dial, reference 116520 Daytona has been Jill’s daily wearer for over ten years. As you can probably tell from the photos, Jill doesn’t exactly treat this hallowed watch with kid gloves. Those of you who cringe at the sight of Jill’s well-loved Daytona, quickly avert your eyes to her other “Winner” Daytona – the one that’s in new-old-stock condition, with the protective stickers still in place.
How’d she get this one? You guessed it. F.A.S.T. Cool Suits were worn by a winning team in the 2008 Rolex 24 At Daytona. This time it was the SpeedSource driving team winning the Gran Turismo (GT) class in the #70 Mazda RX-8. Jill’s best friend, Bill Riley, was involved in the win as one of the engineers for the team. And once again, he helped Jill secure another championship Daytona.
As a successful business woman in the sometimes ego-driven world of sports car racing, Jill knows a thing or two about overcoming challenges and facing adversity. So when she was confronted with the dark reality of cancer, she dealt with that scary period in her life the only way she knew how: she just got through it. Her “never give up,” “can-do” attitude led her to adopt the encouraging phrase, “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade” as her mantra. Knowing how much her optimistic outlook helped her own healing process, Jill decided to start a non-profit that would lift the spirits of cancer patients.
Jill named her organization Lemons of Love, inspired by the positive message behind the popular quote. She also made sure the name of her organization spelled the acronym “LOL” – because her ability to “Laugh Out Loud” during this ordeal turned out to be good medicine.
Lemons of Love creates Chemo Care Packages filled with products that help ease the discomfort of chemotherapy’s side effects, such as lemon drops to suck on to mask food’s metallic aftertaste (caused by the treatment). These handmade totes also include items that inspire patients to be strong, such as a pair of superhero socks and a “happy” picture drawn by a child. Since 2014 Lemons of Love Chemo Care Kits have been delivered to over 2,000 cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy in over 25 hospitals nationwide. Jill’s desire to help people is really nothing new… After all, her company has been keeping drivers safe for over 34 years.
Just like a driver can’t win a race all by themselves, a person can’t battle cancer alone. Jill’s experience on the race track and her perseverance facing colon cancer make her the perfect person to support and motivate those dealing with this terrible disease. Jill finished chemo in October of 2014 and says she still doesn’t feel 100%, but she feels 100% better than she felt last year… Because of the joy and hope Lemons of Love provides, thousands of chemo patients will be able to join her in victory-lane in their fight against cancer.
Jill’s Daytonas are pretty amazing, but what she’s doing through Lemons of Love is even more amazing! That’s why Watch Patina is always fundraising for Lemons of Love. Your donation will provide Lemons of Love the ability to create, fill and deliver Cancer Care Packages to those going through chemotherapy at the NorthShore Kellogg Cancer Center in Evanston, IL.
Not only are you supporting a wonderful charity, but you’re also helping out one of our own. After all, if owning two “Winner” Daytonas doesn’t make Jill an honorary member of the #watchfam, I don’t know what does…