Since becoming the entitlement sponsor of the NASCAR Xfinity Series in 2015, NBCUniversal and Comcast have made it a point of emphasis to give back to the NASCAR community.
That continues in 2021.
For the seventh consecutive year, Comcast will have a Comcast Community Champion of the Year award, which serves to recognize the philanthropic efforts of individuals within the NASCAR industry. Nominations for that award are open now.
“Anybody can nominate anybody, all they need to do is visit ComcastCommunityChampion.com starting June 9, and we’ll have that window open through Aug. 2,” Matt Lederer, VP of brand partnerships and activation at Comcast, said. “It just asks you why the nominee deserves the recognition for their contributions for their positive impact in the community off the track.”
After all the videos are submitted by Aug. 2, Comcast will then select three finalists, sharing their stories publicly sometime in mid-October. Following that, a committee of NASCAR and Comcast executives will choose the 2021 Comcast Community Champion of the Year, with $60,000 going toward the champion’s charity. The other two finalists will each get $30,000 apiece toward their respective charity.
Though Lederer isn’t a part of the committee selecting the winner, he knows how tough it is for NASCAR and Comcast to dwindle it down to the final three.
“It’s really challenging every single year,” Lederer said. “And that’s become more challenging, in my personal opinion, from hearing the stories than when we opened for the basic people who were eligible.
“The first couple of years, you had to be an employee of a team, and we were really looking at the three series. Now that we’ve opened it up and included race teams, employees, track employees, NASCAR officials, media members, that’s even become more challenging because we’ve found so many more personal stories to it.”
Fans are open to nominate stories for the award for a second season. Admittedly so, Comcast does not care where the story comes from, they just want to share inspiring stories. The eligible recipients are team owners, employees and drivers, employees from tracks on the 2021 schedule, NASCAR officials and motorsports media members.
Some of the inspiration of the Comcast Community Champion stems from the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award. In 2014, Lederer was able to attend the NFL Honors and knew that Comcast could transition a similar award into the NASCAR community, as it became a NASCAR partner the following season.
“It was one of those things that came together where we said, ‘You know what, there’s something here,’” Lederer added. “We’ve got to tell the stories of these great individuals.’
“It was a combination of the Walter Payton Man of the Year award and just seeing in the first few months of being a partner what it meant to be a member of the NASCAR community.”
Lederer always points back to being part of the first Comcast Cares Day on a rainy afternoon in Richmond, Va., and seeing Brad Keselowski partake in activities, such as helping children plant a flowerbed. He said Keselowsi didn’t do it because he had to, it was because “That’s what NASCAR is about.”
Joey Gase, representing the Iowa Donor Network, was the inaugural Comcast Community Champion in 2015. JR Motorsports fabricator, Wade Jackson, representing Camp LUCK, won the award in 2016. Chip Ganassi Racing’s pit crew department representing Ronald McDonald House came home with the prize in 2017, while Joey Logano, (Joey Logano Foundation), Dover International Speedway President Mike Tatoian (USO Delaware) and Bubba Wallace (Live To Be Different Foundation) have all won the award in the following years.
Comcast’s efforts don’t go unrecognized by the winners.
“The funds that our organization won from Comcast was actually a really critical component and just serendipitous that it happened,” Tatoian said, who won the award just four months prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. “When you’re dealing with pandemics, everyone thinks in terms of what are the most things that have to be taken care of. And a lot of times, unfortunately, none-for-profit organizations aren’t at the top of the list.
“The funding came in at the exact right time. We were able to continue the mission with what we’re doing and how those funds are spent.”
In 2015, Gase won the award on behalf of sharing his mother’s story. His mom, Mary Jo, passed away due to a brain aneurysm in 2011 but was an organ donor through the Iowa Donor Network. Since her passing, her organs have help save the lives of more than 70 people.
For Gase, the exposure of winning the award helped the donor organization a great deal. On top of that, the $60,000 went a long ways.
Gase told Frontstretch last October, “It goes so far and so cool that there are so many people that come up to me and hear my mom’s story from the Comcast Community Champion award or what we’re doing with our Donate Life partners and saying, ‘I was never a registered organ donor until I heard your mom’s story’ or whoever is on the car that weekend.”
Lederer admitted that each year there have been more submissions that the previous year, even in 2020 during the pandemic. If a person has submitted a video in previous years but didn’t make it as one of the finalists, they can again share or update their story.
Whether or not the 2021 Comcast Community Champion of the Year has in-person award ceremony during Champion’s Week in Phoenix is yet to be determined.
“Too early to tell, but I sure hope so. I’m optimistic that we will,” Lederer said.