_Attention, NASCAR fans… welcome to Throwback Thursday! Every week, from now until the start of the 2013 season we’ll be giving you, our readers the favorite stories we treasure from our writers over the past few seasons. Today we focus on Beth Lunkenheimer, one of the site’s Managing Editors who shares some pieces she’s treasured over the past 18 months._
_From Beth: Charities have always held a special place in my heart, and when there’s a NASCAR driver involved, it’s just that much more important to me. These type of “Charity Corner” stories are what we hope to bring you more of, on a monthly basis with the Frontstretch in 2013._
_This article ran originally on September 13th, 2012._
This weekend, NAPA Auto Parts and Michael Waltrip Racing team up to give two special soldiers and their guests a VIP experience at Chicagoland Speedway. Sergeant Erik Blank and Staff Sergeant Otis Hooper will enjoy a weekend of hospitality full of memories at they attend the Chase opening GEICO 400. In a contest that ran through July 31st, fans had the chance to nominate their favorite soldiers for the experience. Once the nominations closed, representatives from the NAPA Chicago Distribution Center and NAPA Illinois store owners chose the winners.
Sergeant Blank and Sergeant Hooper will serve as honorary pit crew members and enjoy all kinds of perks included in their weekend including a meet and greet with Martin Truex, Jr. Additionally, they’ll receive VIP accommodations, a tour of the pit area and track, an official pit crew shirt and their names on the No. 56 NAPA Toyota.
“It is NAPA’s honor and privilege to align ourselves with the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund to commemorate our great nation and those who fight for our freedom,” Tim Scanlan, General Manager of the NAPA Chicago Distribution Center said. “After all the sacrifices they’ve made in service to our country, this unique NASCAR experience is NAPA’s way of saying ‘thank you.’”
The Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund is a continuation of the effort begun by Intrepid Foundation founders Zachary and Elizabeth Fisher in 1982. For 17 years, the Fishers personally made up to $25,000 worth of contributions to families of military personnel who passed away in the line of duty until Zachary passed away in 1999. Following his passing, nephews Arnold, Richard L. and Tony personally funded the Intrepid Foundation until establishing the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund in 2000.
“We greatly appreciate the support of NAPA Auto Parts and Michael Waltrip Racing to honor our American heroes in uniform,” said David Winters, President of the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund. “NASCAR is uniquely American and we’re proud to collaborate in this unique opportunity.”
Staff Sergeant Otis Hooper was nominated by his sister, Necola. He was medically retired on September 11, 2011 after serving ten years in the United States Army and is a member of the Wounded Warrior Project with a 70 percent disability rating due to a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder diagnosis following three tours of duty in Iraq.
Sergeant Erik Blank was nominated by Michael. He was injured while serving his first tour in Iraq in September, 2004. He suffered traumatic brain damage, shrapnel wounds and heavy impact damage to his body. After spending a month in a Baghdad hospital, he was given the option to go home but stayed for the remaining seven months until his tour was complete. In June 2005, he received a Purple Heart and was deployed for a second tour in Iraq in 2007. He finished off his career with the United States Marine Corps in 2009. He remains active in the Wounded Warriors project and the Wounded Warrior Regiment of the USMC.
According to their mission statement, The Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund “serves United States military personnel wounded in service to our nation, and their families.” To date, the fund has provided nearly $120 million to the families of military personnel lost or severely wounded thorough donations from the public.
In January, 2007, the Center for the Intrepid, a $55 million physical rehabilitation center at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas opened to service those that were disabled while fighting for their country. The 60,000 square foot facility uses physical rehabilitation equipment and features indoor and outdoor facilities that assist in helping soldiers resume some sense of normalcy in their everyday lives.
But it doesn’t end there. After the Center for the Intrepid opened, the focus turned to traumatic brain injuries, and the National Intrepid Center of Excellence was constructed. A 72,000 square-foot, two story facility on the Navy campus in Bethesda, Maryland sits adjacent to the new Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and “provides the most advanced services for advanced diagnostics, initial treatment plan and family education, introduction to therapeutic modalities, referral and reintegration support for military personnel and veterans with TBI and post traumatic stress.” Additionally, the center also assists with brain injury research while testing new therapies as they become available.
“NAPA is proud to support the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund and the important work that they do for the incredible men and women of the Armed forces and their families,” Gaylord Spencer, Vice President of Marketing Strategy for NAPA Auto Parts said. “As Americans across the country hit the road this July to visit their friends and loved ones, we encourage them to remember our troops, honoring and supporting them in whatever way they can.”
The bottom line is that two of the many soldiers who put their lives on the line to defend out country are now getting a well-deserved treat. As the weekend Sergeant Blank and Staff Sergeant Hooper will likely never forget rolls around, please join me and the entire Frontstretch family in saying thank you, not only to the soldiers but their families as well. If not for their sacrifices, plenty of our freedoms would not exist.
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