This Sunday, America’s most famous race track will hold its annual NASCAR race in Indianapolis. Ironically, it’s no longer called “The Brickyard 400.”
Instead, the Samuel Deeds 400 at the Brickyard will commence Sunday afternoon, confusing both hardcore NASCAR fans and casual observers alike.
NASCAR’s most popular races can usually be referred to with one word: Daytona, Talledega, Bristol, etc. And to this day, the race in Indy remains one of the most coveted titles to earn on the circuit. Just this week, Dale Earnhardt Jr. talked about how much he wanted to bend over and kiss the bricks for the first time.
In the grand scheme of things, it seems a little counter-intuitive for NASCAR to make “The Brickyard” part of the title an afterthought.
And then there is Crown Royal, the actual sponsor of the event. For years, beverage companies like Coca-Cola and Pepsi have sponsored NASCAR events and turned their races into national brands. What do you make of a company that spends enough money to sponsor one of the biggest events in NASCAR, only to practically leave its name completely off the title entirely?
The deal is that this weekend is all about Samuel Deeds, a real American hero.
For several years now, Crown Royal has been sponsoring the “Your Name Here” race, first in Richmond and now in Indy. NASCAR fans from across the globe are able to submit candidates that they think are worthy of having an entire race named after them.
When you hear a little bit about Samuel Deeds, you will understand why NASCAR and Crown Royal have so generously given him the spotlight this weekend.
While deployed in Iraq, Deeds came across an improvised explosive device (IED) while setting up a vehicle checkpoint. Upon seeing fellow Marines approaching, he exposed himself to the device, risking his own life to save others. He was severely injured and underwent more than 30 surgeries and procedures following the blast. Three years later, while still recovering, Deeds’ heroic instincts took charge once again when he saved the lives of three individuals caught in a rip tide off the coast of North Carolina.
We throw around the “hero” word a lot in sports.
NASCAR drivers exhibit great bravery in driving around a track at 190 MPH. NFL kickers are viewed as heroic when they make 50-yard field goals to win playoff games after getting “iced” by opposing coaches. Olympians are national heroes for shaving one-tenth of a second off of their time.
And yet, in our wonderful country, there are heroes like Samuel Deeds who go unrecognized every single day of the week.
Ironically, marines like Samuel Deeds would never ask for this type of attention themselves. Two years ago, I was privileged to meet Matthew Hansen, a Marine whose brother died in Afghanistan and still went back to serve several tours overseas. Matthew and his brother had the race in Richmond named after them, and NASCAR was able to honor them for the weekend. Of course, Matthew was humbled by the entire experience, and kept repeating that he was NOT a hero and that he was no different from the countless men he left behind in Iraq.
This weekend when I meet Mr. Deeds, I expect the same outcome. I hope to look into the eyes of an American hero and not break down in tears from gratitude. I hope to be able to tell him thank you for his service for our country. And I hope for just one weekend that he really will allow himself to be honored.
But I expect he won’t. Marines just aren’t built that way. He would never ask for this honor in a million years. In the same way that it was most likely a no-brainer for Samuel to throw himself on a bomb in order to protect his fellow-soldiers, he will in no way, shape, or form desire this type of recognition.
Which is why NASCAR and Crown Royal are choosing to do it.
Thank you, Samuel Deeds, for your unbelievable service. Thank you, NASCAR and Crown Royal, for honoring him.
And thank you, soldiers everywhere, for fighting and giving your lives so that we could have the opportunity to watch a silly little race this weekend.