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King's Cup pays homage to paralyzed veterans

May 21, 2013, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com

King's Cup pays homage to paralyzed veterans
Annual go-karting event coincides with NASCAR military appreciation initiative

Related: Help salute veterans

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Aric Almirola will never forget his first visit to a Paralyzed Veterans of America hospital.

“That was a mix of emotions for me,” the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver said. “It’s very touching, it’s very humbling, it’s extremely sad, but it’s also very gratifying. It’s such a roller coaster of emotions when you go into something like that, because you see these people who signed their name on the dotted line and said, ‘I’m willing to go fight for your country.’

“I’m not that brave. I would never have thought of doing something like that. Then you go see them, and this sounds bad, but you see the consequences of that choice. And I sit and go talk to those people, and 99 percent of them wouldn’t change anything in the world. And that’s a really big eye-opener, to see those people give so much, and literally so many of us take it for granted. It’s a real thing.”

"It's really special to ... give back and just try and help the quality of life for those people who go and fight for our country."

-- Aric Almirola

There was no taking them for granted Tuesday, when Almirola was one of several NASCAR drivers taking part in the King’s Cup, an annual go-karting event hosted by Richard Petty that over the past five years has raised more than $500,000 for the PVA. It coincides with the official kickoff of “NASCAR: An American Salute,” which honors active and former members of the armed forced and their families from Memorial Day events this weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway to July 4th activities at Daytona International Speedway.

That celebration will be evident this weekend at Charlotte, as Goodyear once again replaces its Eagle brand name on the sidewall with a “Support Our Troops” message written in desert camouflage. The track will feature service men and women in its pre-race show prior to Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600, and a number of teams will field vehicles with patriotic paint schemes -- including Richard Petty Motorsports, which will have the Air Force on Almirola’s No. 43 car.

“The military is our family, when you really get down to it, even if you don’t know them or where they come from. Because they’re protecting the families, which all the people in the United States,” Petty said. “I think when I started to get a little bit older I started really appreciating some of that stuff, and really appreciating the guys who didn’t come back, and … the guys who have to come back in and fit back into society. They’ve been gone two years or so, and society’s changed. Every one of them has to adapt, especially the one who get wounded or get paralyzed. They really have to make all kind of adjustments, and it’s up to us to make that as easy for them as we can.”

Hence the King’s Cup, which Tuesday attracted approximately 350 people to the Victory Lane Karting center to meet with drivers and mix it up on the indoor track. Petty first became involved with the PVA about seven years ago, after becoming more aware of the organization that helps veterans with spinal cord injuries or dysfunction.

“I’d seen it, heard of it, but never really paid it any attention,” Petty said. “But once I read where they came from, what they were doing, and all the veterans and stuff that fell through the gaps -- I said, dang I didn’t realize it. We got all our people together and said, ‘Look guys, without those people doing what they’ve been doing, we wouldn’t be able to race. There’d be enemies behind every pole.’ You say, look how lucky we are that we can do what we do. What can you do for payback?”

That theme will continue through Independence Day weekend, with initiatives involving active military, veterans or military families at each stop along the way. Almirola, who well remembers that hospital visit a year ago, was happy to do his part.

“It’s really special to be able to do something like this and give back and just try and help the quality of life for those people who go and fight for our country,” he said. “They go, and when they come back, if they have ailments or limbs missing or stuff like that, they have to go see doctors, and all that costs money. I think it’s important to give back to those people, because they give so much for us, and we don’t even realize it.”

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