MY WIFE insisted upon putting electric candles in our windows before Thanksgiving this year, so I've been thinking about Christmas for a while now.

So let's get down to brass tacks: What are we buying?

I actually don't mind shopping, but some folks in my family are rather difficult to buy for. Luckily, my parents, sister and brother-in-law let me off the hook last year: We decided to give to charity instead of buying each other more stuff to collect dust in our houses.

Now, by this point, some of you are bound to be thinking that this sounds fine but B-O-R-I-N-G. No presents to open on Christmas Day?

Well, this act shouldn't be a guilt thing. This isn't a passing-the-plate deal. We all decided to select charities that fit our interests.

One of my gift recipients was the Victory Junction Gang Camp, a NASCAR-themed camp for children with serious illnesses or chronic health problems. It's one of three main stock-car-themed charities, and it has a local connection to our part of the world: Larry Silver, chief executive officer of the Silver Cos., is on the board of directors.

Recently, I discovered that another "Proud Charity ofNASCAR" has a local presence. That's Speedway Children's Charities, whose Virginia chapter is based in North Stafford.

Speedway Children's Charities was started in 1984, by O. Bruton Smith, CEO of Speedway Motorsports Inc. in Charlotte, N.C. Most of its chapters are based at the racetracks owned by SMI (for example, the NASCAR venues in Charlotte, Atlanta and Bristol), and the organization raised nearly $3 million last year for non-profits that help children.

The local chapter started fundraising in 2001 and has collected $115,000 to benefit 14 different groups in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, including the Rappahannock Area Council for Child Abuse Prevention.

An 18-member board of trustees decides who will receive money and monitors how the money is spent, said Danny Green, the chapter's director.

Everyone involved volunteers his or her time, including Green and his wife, Sandra, who supply the office space and tackle day-to-day chores.

The chapter's mission statement says the goal is to aid organizations who "meet the direct needs of children with medical, educational or social challenges." Award announcements are usually made near the end of each year. This year's recipients are the

Children's Inn at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., a place where pediatric outpatients and their families can stay during times of treatment; and the Comfort Zone Camp in Richmond, a camp for grieving children.

The local group's Web site mentions the desire to support efforts that reach a diverse group of children.

And Green knows something about diversity in auto racing. He is an African-American involved in a sport that's historically been white as snow.

Green used to race Legends cars at Old Dominion Speedway in Manassas, but now rubs shoulders with drivers from NASCAR's premier circuits who help Speedway Children's Charities raise money.

Because the charity needs the help of everyone, though, I couldn't get Green to reveal the name of his favorite wheel man.

"We kinda like to not say who's a favorite," said Green, whose paying job is with the Air Force at the Pentagon.

That's wise. I don't want you to think I'm going soft on you here, but this is an area of life where all the cliches apply.

Raising money for children--especially when it comes from race fans--is one of those times when everybody "takes the checkered flag."

For more information on Speedway Children's Charities, check out http://www.scc-va.org.

To reach JONATHAN HUNLEY: 540-368-5004
Email: jhunley@freelancestar.com