News & Media

NASCAR pays tribute in honor of Veterans Day

November 11, 2012, Seth Livingstone, Special to NASCAR.COM,

Drivers express thanks; three paralyzed veterans will receive retrofitted vehicles

AVONDALE, Ariz. -- Chase contender Brad Keselowski knows that whether or not he wins Sunday's AdvoCare 500 he'll be in Victory Lane at Phoenix International Raceway for an awards presentation that will change lives.

In concert with Veterans Day, Keselowski will co-present three paralyzed veterans with retrofitted cars, courtesy of Penske Racing partner Pennzoil and the Long Love Cars contest.

For Keselowski's Chase hopes, a late-afternoon visit to Victory Lane could mean everything.

For the veterans involved, the late-morning ceremonies are certain to provide a new lease on life.

The message is clear

In honor of Veterans Day, Ryan Newman and sponsor Quicken Loans are rolling out the red carpet for United States veterans at Phoenix.

"I'll be able to get the health care I need and have better control of my life again," says Ronald Courteau Jr. of Mesa, Ariz., whose contest entry earned him a Dodge Challenger SXT. "The quality of [my family's] life will improve immediately."

Courteau, a Marine Corps veteran, was left a paraplegic and amputee after a fall more than 30 years ago. He was unable to attend the funerals of his father and grandmother. His wife was born with spina bifida, making it increasingly difficult for her to assist him. Courteau says he's felt in danger of losing the few things that gave him a sense of independence, including his job at Burke Basic School, going to church and running errands.

With three sons and a service dog, Air Force veteran Jason Morgan believes his new Dodge 1500 ST pickup will be the ticket to more than his own independence.

"I've always taken great pride in being a dad and role model," says Morgan, who suffered waist-down paralysis and a leg amputation. "It will allow me to spend more time with my boys -- to guide them and teach them as much as I can before they go out on their own."

Morgan, from McKinney, Texas, coaches youth football, is on the board of his local YMCA and is a motivational speaker at schools, churches and other venues, speaking out against drug abuse and serving as an advocate for troubled teens.

Lonn Cunningham, a Navy veteran from Silvis, Ill., returned safely from the Philippines and first Gulf War, only to be left a quadriplegic bilateral amputee when a drunk driver struck his car at 145 mph.

Cunningham says his new Dodge Grand Caravan will help him travel to many places and events he longs to see, none more-so than his 17-year-old daughter's high-school graduation.

"It will allow me to make as many memories as possible while my daughter is still at home," Cunningham says.

Courteau, Morgan and Cunningham were selected to receive vehicles retrofitted for their specific needs from hundreds of entries in the Long Love Cars contest. Veterans with disabilities and spouses were eligible to write about their favorite automotive memory, their need for a vehicle and the first place they plan to travel to reestablish their love of cars. Once six finalists were selected, more than 10,000 votes from the public determined the winners.

Team owner Roger Penske, PIR president Bryan Sperber, Pennzoil global brand manager Chris Hayek, Sam Hornish Jr. -- driver of the No. 22 Pennzoil Dodge -- and Mark Dowlis, executive director of the Paralyzed Veterans of America will join Keselowski for Sunday's presentation ceremony.

NASCAR affixed a special Veterans Day decal to the B pillar of cars in all series racing at Phonenix this weekend and teams, drivers and sponsors have gone out of their way to honor veterans and their families, as well.

Danica Patrick, driving in her final Sprint Cup race of the season, is promoting the Semper Fi Fund (to benefit injured warriors), the message on her TV panel noting that Go Daddy founder Bob Parson will match donations to the fund up to $1 million.

* Video: Watch as Newman's car is transformed into a Veterans Day tribute

Ryan Newman's No. 39 Army Chevrolet features a desert camouflage paint scheme with the faces of more than 250 active and retired military members who have done business with sponsor Quicken Loans. Words on the TV panel on the rear of Newman's car read: "Home of the Free BECAUSE of the Brave."

"It's an awesome paint scheme with the digital desert camo," says Newman, who has four top-five finishes, including a win in his last five starts at Phoenix. "Soldiers allow us to do what we love. They give me the chance to race in NASCAR. I think Veterans Day has added meaning. It's a day to give thanks to the men and women who have done so much to give us the freedoms we have.

"A lot of us -- myself included -- take for granted the freedoms we have. ... This weekend, I hope everyone takes a moment to thank a soldier and to just be thankful for the things they have done to give us the free country we have."

Kurt Busch, driving the No. 78 Furniture Row Chevrolet, echoed that sentiment.

Brad Keselowski shakes hands with Jason Morgan upon presentation of a Dodge Ram 1500 ST to the Air Force veteran.

"[On] Veterans Day, a special shout-out goes to all those men and women who [have] served in the military," Busch said. "You are my heroes. Thank you for protecting our freedom."