FORT WORTH, Texas (Sept. 11, 2013) ? The sacrifice of the men and women who serve as first responders is not lost on NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Kevin Harvick.
Harvick's father, Mike, is a retired 25-year veteran firefighter from his hometown of Bakersfield, Calif. It was only fitting that Harvick ? making a stop Wednesday at Texas Motor Speedway as part of NASCAR's Chase Across America program ? helped honor the community service of 44 area first responders and took part in an emotional tribute recognizing those who perished on 9/11 as well as all first responders lost while serving their communities each and every day.
Harvick, accompanied by the 25-member Hooligans Pipes & Drums that is comprised of Dallas-area firefighters, delivered the American flag to Victory Lane following a special procession down pit road while the group played "Scotland The Brave."
With the first responders surrounding him in Victory Lane, Harvick delivered the flag into the waiting arms of representatives from three communities devastated by deadly disasters this year ? Moore, Okla. (EF4 tornado), West, Texas (fertilizer plant explosion) and Granbury, Texas (EF4 tornado).
Cpt. CJ Gillaspie of the West Volunteer Fire Department, Sgt. Andrew Honecker of the Hood County Sheriff's Office in Granbury, and Lt. David Seay of the Moore Police Department raised the American flag and then lowered to half-staff in remembrance.
The flag ceremony was accompanied by a remembrance and prayer by Dr. Roger Marsh of Texas Alliance Raceway Ministries and the Hooligans performed "America The Beautiful" and "The Marine Corps Hymn." The band concluded the ceremony with an emotional tribute to those lost with "Amazing Grace" as the flag was lowered into place and the lead bagpipe player performed a solo as he slowly exited Victory Lane.
"To bring the first responders from their general population around their communities to the race track to honor them is an honor," Harvick said. "For me to be here and to be able to shake their hands and know that those are the men and women that help keep us safe on a daily basis and to see the Texas Motor Speedway honor these heroes around them is pretty neat."
The tribute was part of a day of recognition and celebration for the first responders' community service and those on hand were treated to a 10-lap, Team Texas stock-car driving experience on Texas Motor Speedway's high-banked, 1.5-mile oval. Harvick, driver of the No. 29 Budweiser Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing, also offered them some driving tips.
Harvick and Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage shared heroic stories of the men and women who serve as first responders in North Texas, including the story of Granbury officer Chad Davis who was wounded in a deadly shootout outside the Granbury City Hall in June.
A gunman who had previously shot and killed Hood County Sheriff's Sgt. Lance McLean opened fire in front of the city hall and wounded Davis as he was hit by a bullet that entered his arm and went through his back. Despite his injuries, Davis was determined to join the tribute as he continues to slowly recover.
"It's definitely an honor," Davis said. "I'm a NASCAR fan and it's the chance of a lifetime to come out here and do this with all my other fellow responders. It's just an honor to be here. I still have a paralyzed arm and still have a few surgeries ahead of me, but I have got the good Lord on my side and moving forward."
The tributes were not limited only to the first responders as they, along with Texas Motor Speedway, returned the favor to Harvick. The speedway had a firefighter helmet custom designed for Harvick and then signed by all the visiting first responders.
Davis, along with 15-year-old West Side, Texas, Volunteer Fire Department firefighter Luke LaCroix; White Settlement, Texas, Fire Department firefighter and Iraqi war veteran Billy Wright; Dallas Fire Department Lt. Diane Swaner; and Stephenville, Texas, Fire Department firefighter and Dublin EMS Matlock Jennings presented Harvick with the helmet in Victory Lane during the ceremony.
The helmet had a custom leather fire shield designed by Fireline in his Budweiser sponsor colors of red and white along with Engine 29 in flames representing his car number, the date of 9-11-13, TMS and his last name. With his family tie to the fire department, the gift really hit close to home.
"As I was growing up, you would go to firehouse and see the things that they do," Harvick said. "As a kid, you don't understand the things that go along with being a firefighter or police officer, or what comes with that on a daily basis. Now as an adult, I understand not only the sacrifice that my dad made but these people make on a daily basis."
Harvick earned a spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup for the fourth consecutive year and seventh time in his career. The Chase begins Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway and Harvick will begin seeded fourth in the Chase standings, nine points behind leader Matt Kenseth.
While the Chase remains Harvick's focus, much of the public's attention leading up to the start of the Chase has been focused on what transpired in the final laps of last Saturday's race at Richmond International Speedway that was the final race to determine the 12-driver Chase field.
On Monday evening, NASCAR announced that the sanctioning body had concluded that Michael Waltrip Racing "attempted to manipulate the outcome of the race." A pit stop prior to the green flag late in the race by MWR driver Brian Vickers and a suspicious spin by teammate Clint Bowyer with seven laps remaining altered the complexion of the Chase.
Those actions assisted teammate Martin Truex Jr. in earning one of the two wild-card spots in the Chase and dashed the hopes of Chase hopefuls Ryan Newman, who was leading the race at the time of the caution, and four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon.
Following a review of in-car audio, video, timing and scoring and conversations with MWR officials, NASCAR slapped the organization with major points penalties and unprecedented monetary fine. Among the penalties, MWR's three teams were each docked 50 driver and owner points, and the organization was fined a record $300,000. The docked points sent Truex Jr. from earning the final wild-card spot to sitting outside the Chase in 17th and Newman moving back into the 12-driver field.
"People always ask me whether you think it was right or wrong, but I learned a long time ago that you don't have the authority to get into NASCAR's shoes and make the rules or enforce them," Harvick said. "From the outside looking in, I think they did a good job in reacting to what they needed to do to make the situation fair and keep the integrity of the sport where it needs to be. Those are tough calls to make and I was glad to see them do what they felt they needed to do and make it fair for everybody."(2001, '05-fall, '06-fall, '07-fall, '12-fall), as well as a truck series win (2011-fall), a Sprint Cup Series victory at Texas Motor Speedway has eluded Harvick during his 21 previous starts.
Harvick, however, has enjoyed Sprint Cup success at Texas Motor Speedway despite being winless with 10 top-10 finishes. Six of his top-10 finishes have come in the AAA Texas 500, including a best of third in 2006.
"This has been a great track for us in the Nationwide and truck series as an owner and driver," Harvick said. "We've won a lot of races on this particular race track, but we've just never been able to park our No. 29 car here in Victory Lane. So that's definitely a goal. I enjoy racing here and hopefully we can do that this time around."
Tickets for the AAA Texas 500 are available by contacting the ticket office at (817) 215-8500 or by visiting www.texasmotorspeedway.com.
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