Comcast is a company known for actively supporting the military. This year’s Comcast Community Champion, Mike Tatoian, fits the same mold.
Tatoian, president of Dover International Speedway, was nominated for the 2019 Comcast Community Champion. Other nominees were David Ragan, who represented Shriners Hospital, and Artie Kempner, coordinating director for Fox Sports, for his contributions as the founding president of Autism Delaware.
And though the latter were impressive, Tatoian is one of the current 12 Advisory Councils for USO Delaware, a nonprofit organization that supports the military.
To say the least, the $60,000 award from Comcast will help Tatoian’s mission of helping military members and families.
“For USO Delaware, $60,000 is a significant amount of money that we need, and funding is always an issue for nonprofit organizations,” Tatoian told Frontstretch. “There were a lot of volunteers, staff members and even USO corporate members in Arlington [Virginia] that were celebrating along with me.”
The USO has been in existence since 1941 and has oftentimes been linked to the military as the “force behind the force.” There are over 200 USO centers around the world, staffed by over 600 full-time members and roughly 30,000 volunteers that help keep the mission alive.
But the USO Delaware is crucial. Based at the Dover Air Force Base, every active military member that is killed in battle has their remains sent to Dover.
Tatoian, who doesn’t have a military background says seeing his first dignify transfer was life-changing.
“If everyone could realize that men and women are willing to die for us, and that’s really why I wanted everyone to be there with me to recognize that these guys are heroes for doing what they’re doing,” Tatoian added. “We always throw around the term “hero.” In that particular instance, there’s nothing that exemplifies a hero than when somebody gives their life for their country.”
Tatoian’s first day as the president of Dover was January 2, 2007. Within six months, he found himself attached to USO Delaware, which sits just over five miles away from the track.
It’s not uncommon for volunteers of the USO to go above and beyond for the families of the fallen military members. When accepting the award on Thursday night (Nov. 14), Tatoian recalled a story from a couple of February’s ago regarding a family coming to Dover’s Air Force Base to pick up the remains of their loved one. Coming from the West Coast, the family didn’t have the time to realize the difference in temperature between their warm-weather home and cold northeast part of the United States. Ultimately, the family didn’t bring winter clothes, which is where the USO came into play, traveling to the local Walmart over night to purchase winter clothes for the family.
Ed Carr, director of military veteran affairs for Cocmast/NBCUinversal, states that’s what the USO is all about.
“It’s a can’t-fail mission,” Carr stated. “His [Tatoian’s] organization, the USO Delaware, they are always on call, they’re always there for Gold Star families, which are the families of the fallen service members and they are thinking of things that the family is not thinking of. The fact that they’re there to provide that support and that level of comfort and just to be there to put their arms around these families, it’s truly remarkable and amazing.”
Ironically for Tatoian, he never thought he would be in the position he’s currently in. Not growing up a motorsports fan and learning more and more about the military later in life, he’s grateful to have the role he does.
“The answer is N-O,” he said of believing one day his focus would be around racing and the military. “If anyone had said, ‘Someday you’ll be in NASCAR and running a NASCAR track and you will be deeply involved with our military with a lot of different programs, including the ones at the Pentagon,’ I would have lost every dollar I had because it was so far from where I thought I was heading, and yet, here I am.
“Life happens, and you just make the best choices that you can and you make the best use of it. I never would have guessed it, and fortunately, we’ve been really lucky with those decisions.”
Comcast is a company that’s exemplified what it means to support the military. Led by Carol Eggert, senior vice president of Military and Veteran Affairs, the company has employed more than 11,000 military members since 2015. Its goal is to have jobs for 11,000 more by the end of 2021.
That doesn’t go unnoticed by Tatoian.
“It’s really humbling because I know Comcast is really the global leader,” Tatoian said. “There are a lot of companies, organizations or individuals that talk about trying to integrate themselves and be pro-military, but Comcast is showing it. They are actually doing it and they’ve got the numbers to show for it.
“What they’ve done for our sport and bringing that vision to our sport, I think is inspirational to everybody in the NASCAR industry because they are setting the tone. I think getting an award from Comcast, especially as military centric as they are and committed as they are to our veterans, it’s an honor for me to be a part of that.”
The Comcast Community Champion of the Year Award has been a staple for Comcast since becoming an entitlement sponsor in NASCAR since 2015. Joey Gase won the award in 2015, followed by Wade Jackson, the Chip Ganassi Racing pit crew and Joey Logano prior to 2019. In order to receive recognition for helping the community, Comcast wanted to have an award centered around the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year Award.
“It’s not cliché, it’s a DNA of Comcast,” Matt Lederer, executive director of partnership marketing at Comcast, said. “We feel it’s an extremely important to do that in area where our employees and customers live and work.
“Everybody was always asking in the first couple of years, ‘What is it about NASCAR that makes it special? Is it all the branding?’ No. It’s really cliché, but it’s the people. It’s such a people- and relationship-based area, and to see these stories, we felt the need to not necessarily promote the people, though that’s part of it, but to promote USO Delaware, promote Autism Delaware, promote Shriners.”
Regardless of the award, Tatoian will continue working “shoulder to shoulder” with the volunteers to make the USO Delaware continue to be successful.