Clint Bowyer, David Ragan and Furniture Row Racing owner Barney Visser share personal connections to the heroes they will honor this weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
The Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway is one of NASCAR’s most widely anticipated races. It has the distinction of being the longest race on the Sprint Cup schedule and is considered the home track for many of the NASCAR teams who are based in the area. But what makes it truly unique is its date on Memorial Day weekend.
This year NASCAR is honoring those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country, dubbing the race as the “600 Miles of Remembrance.” As part of that effort, all 43 Sprint Cup drivers will participate in “NASCAR: An American Salute. ™
The driver’s names that normally appear on their windshields will be replaced by the name of a fallen United States Armed Forces member. Many of the families of those featured soldiers will attend the race and Charlotte Motor Speedway will also host more than 6,000 active military members. In addition, Charlotte Motor Speedway will continue its tradition of honoring these military heroes in their pre-race show.
Many of the names displayed were chosen by NASCAR but for some drivers, like Clint Bowyer, the name on his windshield has a more personal significance.
Dale E. Bowyer is Clint Bowyer’s paternal grandfather. He was a 1st Lieutenant in the United States Army and won the Purple Heart, Bronze Star and Distinguished Service Cross for extraordinary heroism. The Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) is the second highest military decoration that can be awarded to a member of the United States Army.
While leading his platoon under heavy fire in an attack near Sinz, Germany, on Jan. 25, 1945, Lt. Bowyer was severely wounded by an enemy mine. He refused evacuation even though both feet were shattered. His men, inspired by his bravery, continued their advance after moving past the minefield. Only then did Lt. Bowyer allow himself to be evacuated. He eventually lost his leg due to the injuries he sustained. Lt. Bowyer worked in the dairy business after his stint in the Army and passed away in June 1974.
David Ragan’s No. 55 Toyota will carry a name with close ties to the NASCAR community. Sgt. Bryan Brewster was only 24-years-old when he and nine other soldiers died on May 5, 2006 when their CH-47 Chinook transport helicopter crashed along the Pakistan border. Five children lost their fathers on that fateful day.
Bryan’s father Louis Brewster is a longtime motorsports reporter and sports columnist for the Los Angeles Newspaper Group and a familiar face in the NASCAR garage. Louis Brewster and his wife Linda created the Bryan Brewster Foundation with the motto “Excellence through Leadership.”
The foundation has delivered 3,000 books to families of military personnel so that soldiers can read to their children while deployed and has offered assistance for veterans at Chaffey College in California through a scholarship fund.
“There’s nothing in the world that makes me more proud than to do something for the men and women of our military, especially those who have given their lives,” said driver David Ragan.
“This weekend is the greatest weekend of the year for racing, but I hope by putting Bryan’s name on our car everyone will remember that a lot of people sacrificed their lives for our freedom,” Ragan continued. “On behalf of myself, MWR, Aaron’s, Toyota, NASCAR and all Americans I want to thank Bryan Brewster and his family along with all the other soldiers and their families.”
Furniture Row Racing owner Barney Visser has chosen to honor a brother in arms, Sgt. Edwin Penn. His name will be displayed on the windshield of Martin Truex Jr.’s Chevrolet. Penn was only 20 years-old when he was killed in action on Sept. 6, 1968 in South Vietnam.
Visser, who also served in Vietnam, met Penn at their induction ceremony and completed basic training with Penn at Fort Bliss.
“You could tell right away that Ed was a natural leader,” said Visser. “He was strong, fair and had a big heart in his role as our squad leader. He is a true hero and it will be an honor to have Ed’s name on our race car at the Memorial Day weekend race in Charlotte. The last time I saw him was at our basic training graduation. We went on to serve in different units in Vietnam.”
Penn served in the 101st Airborne Division and started his tour of duty on Aug. 7, 1968. He was killed only 29 days later.
“Ed was the consummate brother,” said Randy Penn. “He was my teacher, my protector, and my sparring partner at home. He had a quiet tone, strong will and led by example for all who surrounded him. It has been 47 years since his passing, he is still in my mind and heart, he will forever be missed, and has been an important part of my life in all that I have done.”
These are only a few stories of the brave souls who served our country with honor. Please take a moment to remember all of these fallen heroes by visiting nascar.com for profiles on all 43 honorees.