By Lee Shappell
He’s a hands-on, motorcycle-racing team owner. She’s the brains behind a prom dress giveaway. Dirt under the nails versus polished nails. A seeming mismatch but no argument on one point: they’re both doers, and they’re both passionate about sharing their improbable success through philanthropy.
With little fanfare, South Tempe residents Tim and Traci Estenson have made their mark in the Southeast Valley through acts like the 100 Suns tickets they buy each year to give away to families and the suite they got for a Carrie Underwood concert this spring that Traci filled with foster kids.
“It just gives you goosebumps,” Traci said of their good fortune. “We’re pretty spiritual. We believe in a higher power. God made us stewards of this abundance. He really trusts us.”
“It’s not just monetarily,” Tim added. “It’s what you can do for your community and what you can do to help other people.”
Consider who they are and where they’ve been. Tim, 61, dropped out of high school in Fargo, N.D., to go motorcycle racing. He’d been on minibikes since he was 5.
“I was not college material,” he said. By 19, his body was beat up from racing. What would he do in the real world? Was he employable? Distraught, he made poor choices, turning to drugs and alcohol.
“In September of 1976, I finally realized that I was making life worse,” he said. “I quit everything. I haven’t had a sip of alcohol since, or used any type of substances.
“I talk to groups, to kids going down the wrong road. I went down the same path. It’s important to me to reach them. You have to be careful with the people you choose to be with. It takes some willpower but I found a new way to live. I’m proud of that.”
His troubles weren’t over. He moved to the Valley and attempted to start a trucking firm, although he’d never driven a semi. At the time, he didn’t even own one; he was into sales and management.
On the verge on bankruptcy, he got his first client. Then another. “I formed the company in 1999, Estenson Logistics,” he said. “I sold the company in 2017. At that time, we were operating in 38 states with 122 locations and 3,000 employees. We went from no revenue to $350 million our last year.
“It’s just crazy. It’s the American dream. It can be done if you’re true to people.”
Traci’s story revolves no less around life’s transitions. She grew up near Pittsburgh, graduated from Robert Morris University.
“I was the youngest of five,” Traci said. “We were taught about giving to people. That’s the way I grew up, although we didn’t have much money. My sister gave me money for my prom dress.”
She says she never has been on a motorcycle. That’s fair: Tim never has worn a prom dress. “But I did jump out of a plane,” Traci said.
They met in Las Vegas. She was organizing a golf outing at a trade show. Tim was there to network. They hit it off quickly.
Needing a hobby after selling his business, Tim started a motorcycle-memorabilia museum in his Chandler shop. He also collects motorcycles. He has more than 200.
“Each bike has a significant story and life to it,” he said. “It’s a passion for me.”
Predictably, he has found his way back to motorcycle racing, this time as a team owner. Estenson Racing is based in Chandler. This season, he has five flat-track drivers, and his neophyte group is beating factory teams.
“I have an overwhelming desire to win and an overwhelming desire to be the best,” Estenson said. “Beating the factory teams is very satisfying.”
So was helping Charlie Roberts, organizer of Rookies of ‘79 and Friends, the official charity of American Flat Track Racing. Roberts said the organization could not help injured riders and their families with medical bills and other expenses without the financial support of the Estensons.
“Tim made a major investment,” Roberts said. “He initially paid me a six-month salary as my only job to take on the charity. He funded the operation expenses. He helped us get a 10-by-20-foot booth that we take to 18 professional flat-track events around the country.”
Tim and Traci now require their team riders, most of them late-teens to early 20s, who left school to race, to get at least a high school diploma or GED. They encourage them to do philanthropy in the community: clinics, teaching kids how to discipline themselves, and to exercise and eat properly.
“Sometimes people drop out and they don’t think they’re good enough or smart enough to finish something,” Traci said. “They sometimes just need confidence and encouragement. Everybody is special in their own way.”
Just as Traci is involved with Estenson Racing, Tim rolls up his sleeves at Cinderella Affair, which makes prom dreams come true for girls who need a dress.
“When you see their faces, it’s unbelievable,” he said. “I do this because I love it. It’s so fulfilling for me. I might be there just to fix a plugged toilet, but it hits me once I’m there.”
Tim’s museum and racing team originally were in a building on North McKemy Avenue in Chandler. He figured he’d never outgrow it.
He was wrong.
“He said, ‘I’ll give you the upstairs because my bikes are gonna be downstairs,’ but I thought to myself that someday I will get this whole building,” Traci said.
She was right.
When Tim moved from McKemy into his massive current quarters at Stellar Airpark, they kept the old building for Traci’s charitable work. The exterior resembles a castle. The ground floor now houses offices of the East Valley Women’s League, in which Traci is materially involved, and for Cinderella Affair, which Traci has headed for six years.
Belying any hint of palatial trappings, Traci says, “It’s a factory.”
Upstairs are prom dresses of every style and color imaginable, organized in rooms by sizes, 0-30. Six thousand of them. There also are rooms for shoes, for jewelry and for accessories.
“I want every girl to know that her voice can change the world,” Traci said. “We put things around them so they aren’t afraid to sparkle.”
Each girl receives a dress, a pair of shoes, two pieces of jewelry and a purse. It’s all free to high school juniors and seniors with a valid student ID. They’re not required to return any of the items they receive. Some do, though. Some even have come back years later as volunteers to give back.
In its first year, Cinderella Affair donated 122 dresses. Seventeen years later, the number has reached 16,000. A line of as many as 300 girls wraps around the building waiting to get in during prom season.
Traci says she wants to expand to include tuxedos for boys. She’s also leaning on Tim for a truck to create a mobile Cinderella Affair that goes around to schools.
Nor does the local geography limit her notion of largesse. Traci already has shipped 15 wardrobe boxes of prom dresses to Hawaii, where the couple has a home, with the intention of finding space this summer to start a Cinderella Affair branch on the Big Island. The idea began when a girl there needed a dress, saw Cinderella Affair online, sent an email—and Traci sent her a dress.
“God has truly blessed us,” she said. “I can’t even believe that this is my life. It’s crazy, isn’t it?”
Learn more at estensonracing.com, rookies79.com, cinderella affair.org or evwl.org