“It’s about the people,” explained Johnson. “We are all only as good as our weakest link. We are a team, and no one person is successful alone.”
Johnson participated in the event alongside retired Boston sports legends representing each of the four professional franchises, including Johnny Bucyk of the Boston Bruins (two-time Stanley Cup champion), Jo Jo White of the Boston Celtics (two-time NBA champion), Joe Andruzzi of the New England Patriots (three-time Super Bowl champion) and Tim Wakefield of the Boston Red Sox (two-time World Series winner).
The group was joined by several Boston Marathon survivors, first responders and MBTA officer Richard Donohue, who was injured in a shootout with Boston Marathon bombing suspects.
NHMS VP and GM Jerry Gappens announced the track’s special plans to honor the survivors and the many first responders for the upcoming race weekend, July 11-14
“We have reached out to some of our corporate partners and they are contributing money to allow us to host thousands of first responders and their families at the races,” said Gappens. “So far, we have delivered 2,000 tickets, and the program will run right up to race weekend. We are using the platform of the largest sporting event to get this message out; to say thanks to the first responders.”
In addition, NHMS has created a special t-shirt emblazoned with the “Boston Strong” motto which will be on sale all weekend long to raise funds for marathon survivors.
The champions’ lunch was originally going to celebrate the local sports stars along with the Hendrick Motorsports driver. But, after April 15, the purpose of the event changed. Johnson and Gappens decided to honor heroes in the community, like Donohue, who thanked the public for their support and donations, and talked about his recovery.
“I have severe nerve damage in my foot, and I may never return to the job I love, but I am optimistic,” said Donohue. “Those first responders who supported us; to me, these people are the champions. Without their support, we couldn’t physically, mentally or emotionally heal from these attacks.”
Johnson added, “I was excited to meet Dick Donohue. He is a hero to me.”
Andruzzi, who is active in the local community, was brief and succinct when he summed up what the day meant to him. “It’s incredible to be here with such a wonderful gathering of sports stars and survivors,” he said. “I’m proud to be here.”
Following the event, all five sports stars climbed into their iRacing seats and took 10 laps around NHMS to celebrate the upcoming New Hampshire 301 on July 14. Although Johnson took the checkered flag, he was disqualified for having too much experience. Andruzzi went to Victory Lane.
(Left to right) Five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, Officer Richard Donohue, J.P. Norden, Tim Wakefield, Heather Abbott, Jo Jo White and Johnny Bucyk. (Credit: NHMS)
Banners from the teams representing all five athletes hang in the rafters at Cask ’n Flagon. (Credit: NHMS)
(Left to right) NHMS Executive VP/General Manager Jerry Gappens and Boston Celtics great Jo Jo White help show off the Boston Strong t-shirts that will be on sale on NASCAR weekend at NHMS. (Credit: NHMS)
(Left to right) NHMS Executive VP/General Manager Jerry Gappens and Boston Celtics great Jo Jo White hold up a poster that shows both Fenway Park and Gillette Stadium fit inside the Magic Mile’s oval. (Credit: NHMS)
New England Patriots great Joe Andruzzi (front) and two-time World Series champion with the Boston Red Sox Tim Wakefield race against each other on iRacing simulators. (Credit: NHMS)