'Happy to be on the upward swing of it': Apel brothers back at the track months after lifesaving transplant

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SLINGER, Wis. (CBS 58) -- A former track championship and his place as one of the top super late model drivers in the country are both good, logical reasons to cheer for Steve Apel when the red number 51 car takes to the high banks at Slinger Speedway. Another reason has to do with his family's story off the racetrack, and it may just tug at your heartstrings.

"A lot of ups and downs," Apel said, in between practice runs for the annual Slinger Nationals. "We're happy to be on the upward swing of it. Just taking it day by day."

Steve's not talking about his race team. That's firing on all cylinders with three cars and drivers capable of running up front during any given race. He's talking about his 6-year-old son, Cameron, and his ongoing battle with severe aplastic anemia diagnosis.

"A lot of praying and long nights with very little sleep, but we managed to get through it," Steve said. "Now we're on the upward swing, waiting for numbers to continue to grow and get him healthy again."

Cameron was joined at the racetrack on Tuesday afternoon by his best friend and 4-year-old brother, Harrison. He's the one who stepped up on April 11 to donate what he calls his "bow and arrows," also referred to as bone marrow in the medical community, to help save his big brother. Three months later, the surgery is in the rear-view mirror.

"They're just super excited to be here in general and be able to come in the pits and see everybody that they love to see," said the boys' mom, Liz Apel. "They're all excited if dad does win, or they're really bummed if dad doesn't win."

As for Steve, while he always wants to be the first to the checkered flag, he's grateful to just have the opportunity to be racing with his wife and two boys cheering him on.

"It kind of puts life into perspective when you look at what you think is important, and that's always been family and racing. It kind of reassures that family is the most important thing," Steve said. "At the end of the day, no matter what happens, I'm happy to be here. That's the most important thing, to enjoy it. Take these moments, and they're special in so many ways, but they're a little more meaningful now than they were in the past."

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