RELATED: Full coverage of NASCAR Salutes
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Andrew Lumish spends his scant spare time visiting cemeteries.
He arrives on Sundays, sleeves rolled up and supplies in hand. He goes to work, spending hours meticulously restoring the graves and monuments of fallen veterans, whose final resting places have fallen into a state of disrepair.
His work has led to a nickname turned nonprofit organization: “The Good Cemeterian.” And on Saturday night, he was at Daytona International Speedway as part of the weekend’s patriotic plans.
“It was very organic how this all started,” Lumish told NASCAR.com. “I love photography, and I love to take pictures. In doing so I stumbled upon an old, historic cemetery in downtown Tampa. I photographed it, and it was amazing.
“But I made an observation — the monuments were in incredible disrepair. These were our soldiers’ monuments, who had fought to protect all of our freedoms today, from 100, 150 years ago. They were neglected and falling apart. They were a mess.”
Weathered with age, the monuments ranged from minor wear to total obstruction. Some were so bad, a passerby couldn’t read the last name on the marker. Those under large trees were especially bad, with years — perhaps decades — of built-up pollen.
“It kind of pissed me off,” Lumish said. “It angered me.”
So Lumish, who lives in Florida, acted. He studied and learned how headstones are restored and maintained at hallowed Arlington National Cemetery, then he purchased all of the products. He cleaned headstones anonymously on Sunday, his day off, until filming a brief piece for one of his buddies at the local news station.
It went viral.
As viral things tend to do, his story became national. And it caught the eye of NASCAR officials, who were in the middle of the NASCAR Salutes Refreshed by Coca-Cola initiative, a six-week program designed to honor and pay respect to the military and servicemembers.
Lumish attended the Coke Zero 400 as the special guest of Jim Cassidy, NASCAR’s Senior Vice President of Racing Operations.
As NASCAR and Daytona honored troops and servicemembers, Lumish was there to take it all in — and reflect on his role in the patriotic weekend ahead of Independence Day.
“I know how patriotic and how important this is to so many people,” Lumish said of the race. “I know the background of what NASCAR does for our military, so to be a part of it, to be invited to something like this, truly it’s so exciting. I’ve had some amazing things happen to me in my life, and this is right up there.”