America Supports You: NASCAR Honors Wounded Troops at Dinner Event
By Steven Donald Smith
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sep. 22, 2006 NASCAR drivers and top brass came out in full force at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here last night to show their support for America’s wounded troops.
U.S. Army Cpl Christopher Strickland (right) poses for a photo with NASCAR driver Carl Edwards during the NASCAR visit to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, Sept. 21. Strickland was injured in Iraq in July, 2006. Dept of Defense photo by William D. Moss
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
“It’s important to support our troops because they’re defending our freedoms,” Greg Biffle, driver of the National Guard-sponsored No. 16 car, said prior to a dinner in honor of injured servicemembers. “I’ve been here about a half dozen times, and it’s always very emotional because many of the soldiers have serious life threatening-type injuries they’re recovering from. My appreciation for them is overwhelming.”
Earlier in the day, the drivers and executives visited wounded troops in the hospital wards. “A lot of them seem like they are disappointed that they’re here,” Biffle said. “Not just because they’re injured, but because they’d rather be with their unit, which I find extraordinarily patriotic.”
Ashton Lewis, driver of the Marine Corps-sponsored No. 25 car, agreed with Biffle. “When you get a chance to come to (the National Naval Medical Center at) Bethesda or Walter Reed, like we are today, and you see the commitment and sacrifices our troops make, it really humbles you,” he said.
Lewis said he felt fortunate to drive a racecar for a living and added that American troops are partly responsible that good fortune. “I wouldn’t get that opportunity if it weren’t for what these men and women in the armed forces do for us,” he said. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for their efforts.”
Army Cpl. Christopher Strickland, 20, a hospital patient and “big time” NASCAR fan, said he appreciated the drivers’ coming out. “I think it’s awesome. I love coming to things like this to see that people actually care about us,” he said.
Strickland was injured in Ramadi, Iraq, in July. His injuries include two shattered heels, various broken bones, loss of sight in his right eye, and a severely damaged right arm. He said he felt if it wasn’t for the superb treatment he’s received at Walter Reed he’d be a lot worse off. “The doctors here are awesome,” he said. “They saved my arm and my eye.”
Army Maj. Gen. George W. Weightman, Walter Reed commander, called NASCAR a uniquely American sport. “The fact that you took time out of your busy schedule to spend some time with us is immensely generous,” he told the drivers.
The drivers attending the dinner at the Karen Wagner Sports Center, on the Walter Reed campus, included Biffle, Lewis, Carl Edwards, Joe Nemechek, Sterling Marlin and Kyle Busch.
Retired NASCAR driver, Darrell Waltrip, served as master of ceremonies for the night’s event, which included a musical performance by singer Scott Stapp, frontman of the band Creed, and tenor Daniel Rodriguez, who belted out “God Bless America.”
“We know a lot of you are big fans, but we’re also big fans of yours,” Waltrip told the injured troops. “We think about you every weekend when they drop that green flag.”
Waltrip thanked all those who made the night’s event possible, including those associated with the America Supports You program. America Supports You is a Defense Department program that highlights the various ways the American people are supporting the armed forces.
Attendees received generous gift bags containing some useful items, including Mechanix Wear gloves, which are worn by NASCAR pit crews. The protective gloves are great for gripping and might help patients learn to manipulate wheelchairs. Mechanix Wear also donated numerous pairs of gloves to the hospital’s amputee patient care center.
NASCAR has a long history of supporting members of the armed forces, Brian France, NASCAR’s chief executive officer, said. “If you go to a NASCAR race you’ll see that the armed forces are a big part of what we do,” he said. “What most of us know is that the real heroes aren’t in sports or business, they’re those who keep us safe 365 days a year.”