Gratitude present in big way for Bell with special Coca-Cola 600 scheme

If gratitude powered race cars, then Christopher Bell has to be an odds-on favorite to hoist Sunday‘s Coca-Cola 600 trophy at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The driver of the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota will carry a very special paint scheme — representing a very impactful organization in this year‘s annual Memorial Day 600-miler. Semper Fi & America‘s Fund will join longtime JGR sponsor Interstate Batteries on Bell‘s Camry — a nod to an organization committed to America‘s military members and their families. A group that legitimately changes lives.

And the partnership is a mutual feeling of excitement and honor for Bell and for “The Fund,” as it is called. 

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“There are so many things that go into Memorial Day weekend and even driving for Interstate Batteries, one of the most iconic brands in the sport of NASCAR, to be able to represent them and Semper Fi and America‘s Fund. Words can‘t really do justice to what it means, but I know I‘m incredibly grateful for the opportunity,‘‘ Bell said. 

“Racing is obviously secondary (in the big picture). If it wasn‘t for (the Fund), we wouldn‘t be able to do this.”


For Army Sargent Jason Smith — a proud second-generation member of the United States military — The Fund has been a crucial, life-changing aid since his return from a tour in Afghanistan. While deployed in 2012, Smith, 38, was critically injured in an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) attack, ultimately losing both his legs.

jason raymond smith
jason raymond smith

Photo courtesy of Joe Gibbs Racing


The Fund provided Smith with not only a mobility chair but financial help to have an adaptive vehicle customized to meet his needs as well as adapting Smith‘s home to better accommodate the busy father of two. It‘s now a place of hope and resilience he shares with his wife Lauren and their two children, Lauren, 8, and Bear, 6.

Although he suffered that devastating physical loss, Smith said he has adopted a vastly different outlook on life since his recovery.  The help provided by The Fund made such a crucial difference in that and he is eager to share — and have NASCAR draw attention to — what that impact has meant to him and can mean to others. 

“For me, personally, there‘s been so many things they‘ve helped me with and times I had nowhere else to go,‘‘ Smith said. “The Fund chooses to help and treats us all like family.

“There‘s a lot of things that are uncertain and I‘ve found that no matter where life takes me, Semper Fi and America‘s Fund is there to help me navigate. When you‘re younger and you fall, someone‘s there to lend a hand and help you get up, your mother or father. It‘s similar. It‘s just nice to have someone there that really gets you and helps you. They treat you like family and it‘s been life-changing for me. I owe them a debt of gratitude for sure.”


Smith, a decorated bodybuilder since his injury, plans to open a mobile gym called “Battleborn” — an opportunity facilitated through The Fund‘s “Apprenticeship Program.‘‘  He‘s competed in the Warrior Games and would like to qualify for the internationally-acclaimed Invictus Games — a competition for wounded service members started by Britain‘s Prince Harry.

So being able to celebrate The Fund on such a huge national stage as NASCAR during such an iconic holiday weekend is something this longtime race fan is particularly excited about. He even flew from his Chattanooga home to Charlotte this week to tour the JGR shop, meet Bell and get an “all-in” look at what this partnership is all about.

“It‘s something I never imagined,‘‘ Smith said. “It‘s an amazing opportunity to really get out there and spread the word and raise the awareness for such an amazing organization. I‘m just really blessed and happy to help.‘‘ 

Bell, who won on the dirt at Bristol Motor Speedway in April and sits in second place in the NASCAR Cup Series championship standings, has been particularly receptive to welcoming Smith and The Fund to his team. This will be the first time he‘s had a car honor a veteran in this way and he‘d like to provide the ultimate salute — in Victory Lane.


“Charlotte was one of my best races last year,‘‘ Bell said. “I certainly think we are capable of racing for the win this weekend and it would be really cool to get these guys into Victory Lane and see all the guests we have with us and share the victory with them. That resonates strongly. If I win, not only is it a big win for me, but there‘s so many people it would help and encourage.‘‘

MORE: Full Charlotte schedule

The inspiration would be palpable.

“This opportunity is amazing to me on many levels,‘‘ said Smith, who says his love of NASCAR started as a fan of Hall of Famer drivers Mark Martin and Dale Earnhardt.


“Surface level, it‘s just exciting to be able to tell people about, but on a deeper note, it‘s getting the word out for other veterans that really need the help and don‘t really know that there‘s help there. Being able to help navigate through trials and tribulations post-injury, the fund being there helps make things so much easier to navigate.‘‘

And that‘s ultimately what he believes this partnership with NASCAR will reinforce.

“You have the opportunity to get down and just say, ‘I‘m done,‘” Smith explains, his voice full of emotion.

“Anybody can give up, but it really takes true grit to push through and live the life you choose to live.‘‘

“If I had to sum it up to one word what Semper Fi & America‘s Fund means to me, it would be: hope. They make sure we aren‘t forgotten and that our needs are met.‘‘