JOLIET, Ill. (May 18, 2018) – Chicagoland Speedway announced today that it will host a military Honor Ceremony during its Stars and Stripes weekend on Saturday, June 30 at 10 a.m. in Champions Park before the running of the NASCAR Xfinity Series Overton’s 300.
During this time, event attendees will pause from the fast-paced excitement of the weekend to honor those who serve. Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery Director Quincy McCall (formerly Quincy Whitehead), an Army veteran, will emcee the ceremony.
All Illinois Gold Star Families of those killed in action are invited guests of Chicagoland Speedway as their loved ones are remembered. The John Whiteside Memorial Squad from the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery will serve as color guard, and will render honors, followed by “Taps” as the names of those fallen are displayed on screen. Additionally, the Illinois Fallen Hero Wall, will be displayed in the park all weekend.
Prior to the start of the ceremony at 9 a.m., the 23-piece Navy Great Lakes Ceremonial Band will perform. At 9:55 a.m., the Native Veterans Group of Illinois will present three Eagle Staffs while a drummer performs a ceremonial flag song native to that veteran’s tribe. Each feather represents a person or people who have given their lives for these lands. The Native Veterans Group of Illinois often present these same Eagle Staffs at Chicago Blackhawks games opening ceremonies.
America’s Got Talent singer Sal Gonzalez will perform following the ceremony. Gonzalez, a Marine Corps veteran who lost part of his leg while serving in Iraq, is also known for his work with the Wounded Warrior Project.
Civilian Volunteer Award
Debbie Bennett (known to many as Debbie Smothers) will receive a civilian volunteer award. In 2003, Bennett co-founded Operation Care Package, a nonprofit, all-volunteer organization that has gathered, packed and shipped more than 20,000 boxes to deployed troops containing all manner of donations – from golf clubs and DVDs, to socks, toothbrushes and beef jerky.
Bennett also serves as the local coordinator for the national nonprofit Wreaths Across America. Bennett orchestrates a monumental volunteer effort, bringing tens of thousands of wreaths across the country on semi-tractor trailers, unloaded and reloaded by Will County Farm Bureau members before being delivered to the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery. Thousands of volunteers descend on the cemetery on a single December day each year to unload boxes, unpack wreaths and place them on specific sections within the cemetery. Though fundraising and awareness increases each year, not all graves receive a wreath. It is Bennett’s extreme organization and leadership that ensures that every family that orders a wreath receives one on the correct grave.
When Bennett was told she is being honored, she responded humbly.
“I don’t need that,” Bennett said. “There are so many other people that are deserving.”
ARCA Racing Series driver Jesse Iwuji, a Surface Warfare Officer in the NAVY Reserves and former track and football player at the United States Naval Academy, will serve as Chicagoland Speedway’s Stars and Stripes Weekend ambassador. Iwuji, the current two-time NASCAR Diversity Driver of the Year, will be busy on and off the track engaging with fans at our various military-themed events around the property, including the award presentation to Bennett.
Presenting Grant for Combat-Wounded Veteran
Cheers to the Warriors is a local nonprofit organization that provides financial assistance to combat-wounded veterans who face financial – and typically emotional – struggles due to injuries sustained while serving. During the Honor Ceremony, Cheers to the Warriors, (founded by Jonathan Jans, a combat wounded veteran himself,) has assisted dozens of veterans, not only financially, but also by helping them register with Veterans Affairs, and in some cases helped prevent suicide. The organization also produces Warrior Vodka, which donates at least 60 percent of gross profits to Cheers to the Warriors. Race fans will be able to support this effort and try the vodka race weekend at the Miller Lite Pit Stop.
Welcoming All Veterans and Active Military
All veterans and active military are invited to attend the Honor Ceremony where they will be publicly thanked for their service. Veterans organizations throughout the area, including The American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts, as well as The Military Order of the Purple Heart, are invited to not only attend the Honor Ceremony, but to participate in various ways all weekend long.
Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient Allen J. Lynch
Recipient of the highest award for valor in action against an enemy force, the Medal of Honor, Allen J. Lynch will be recognized on Sunday during pre-race ceremonies. He will also speak with veterans and active military throughout the weekend.
Native Veteran Wall of Honor Exhibit
An estimated 1 in 4 of all Native Americans have served in the military – the largest percentage of any single population at 22 percent. Native veterans from Trickster Art Gallery in Schaumburg will participate in the Freedom Walk in Champions Park all weekend displaying a Native Veteran Wall of Honor exhibit, along with Native American art, as well as other educational experiences.
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The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Chicagoland Speedway will take place on July 1 as part of the four-race weekend June 28 – July 1. The weekend will kick off on Thursday, June 28 with the SCOTT® 150 ARCA Racing Series followed by NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Overton’s 225 under the lights on Friday night. On Saturday, June 30, the NASCAR XFINITY Series Overton’s 300 will hit the track as the precursor to Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Overton’s 400 showdown.
— Chicagoland Speedway —