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NASCAR Charlotte Qualifying Auto Racing

Dale Earnhardt Jr., left, talks with Matt Kenseth, right, before qualifying for Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup series auto race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C., Thursday.

Veterans know what it is like to make sacrifices and NASCAR driver Matt Kenseth will be honoring one of those who made the ultimate sacrifice at the Sprint Cup Series Coca Cola 600 race Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

That honor will go to fallen local veteran and Camp Hope namesake, Pfc. Christopher Neal White.

Instead of Kenseth’s name, his race car (No. 20) will bear White’s name across the top of its windshield during what is the longest and most grueling race of the NASCAR season. The 600-mile race is the approximate equivalent of the distance from Chicago to Washington D.C.

“Each of the names proudly displayed on these race cars tells a story of honor and sacrifice,” Chief Operating Officer Brent Dewar said. “As the NASCAR industry reflects on Memorial Day Weekend, we’re proud to honor these and all fallen service members in a way that helps ensure their stories and lives are never forgotten.”

Kenseth, driver of Dollar General Car No. 20, chose to honor Neal during the NASCAR 600 Miles of Remembrance this year. Pfc. Neal was killed while serving active duty in the United States Marine Corps in Iraq. Following this, his parents William "Mike" and Galia White opened Camp Hope in 2007 and continue to serve his memory and disabled veterans near Farmington.

“As far as Memorial Day goes, it’s an honor that NASCAR can do it,” Mike said. “It’s nice that they do it.”

Mike said a representative from Joe Gibbs Racing contacted him recently about the project. His notification came about through a relative with a connection to Toyota Motorsports.

According to Kenseth’s own website, he is going into the Charlotte race right after his win at Dover International Speedway May 15. Kenseth fought hard in his Toyota Camry to overcome the second place contender and move up from a tenth place start in the AAA 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.

To get to his victory, Kenseth had to overcome a (non-injury) blow to his body and his car after it flipped during the last portion of the series race at Talledega Superspeedway May 1, according to ESPN. The source states that another driver bumped a car which in turn hit Kenseth’s car, resulting in an unavoidable crash. Fortunately, Kenseth still had enough points to finish in the middle of the pack at number 23.

Last May 21, at the NASCAR Sprint Cup Coca Cola 600 the names of fallen veterans appeared across the top of all 43 windshields of the race cars, at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The official name of the tribute is "NASCAR: An American Salute" and is part of the sport’s annual military appreciation platform.

Kenseth’s fellow driver David Ragan of the No. 23 Bubba Burger Toyota talked about the importance of the program.

“Memorial Day is an important day for our entire nation, but certainly for our industry. The Coca-Cola 600 has a lot of history and heritage in our sport. Memorial Day is important day in our country to honor all of our soldiers that lost their lives fighting for our country. I have had a couple of grandfathers and uncles that served in our nation’s military, so it’s a certainly an important day in my family as well to pay tribute for those that served. One of my favorite memories about Memorial Day Weekend is all of the soldiers and pre-race festivities at Charlotte Motor Speedway over the years. It’s always been a lot of fun. The track always does a great job at showing our patriotic side and preparing for a great race.”

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In 2013 NASCAR driver Kyle Busch agreed to have the name of a veteran placed on his car during one of his races as a way to honor his service. Of course need it be mentioned that the veteran was a huge racing fan.

Mike said veterans who stay at Camp Hope and their families voice their appreciation through desire to come back for additional visits. The Whites get to see the satisfaction that veterans get when they realize that they can do things that they once thought would never be possible right after their injury or illness.

Chris liked to help others and the Whites felt the camp was a way to mirror his life, honor his memory, and continue to give back to other veterans that live on to fight. These veterans have returned from the battlefield but have to face lifelong struggles just to survive, in many cases.

Their scars are not always visible ones either and this venue gives them a scenic space to deal with emotional and spiritual issues. Many of them may live in cities where the constant hustle and bustle is not conducive to attaining serenity.

Time to “get away from it all” is something that people in rural areas often take for granted. This privilege has been shown in medical study after medical study to increase the healing time and can mean the difference between life and death.

Camp Hope is an outdoor sports venue that gives wounded veterans access to 1,500 acres outside of Farmington. In April, hundreds of supporters were on hand when the new three-dimensional archery range and adapted skeet shooting range were showcased at the annual open house. Veterans can sit in a specialized, electric wheelchair or “Trac Chair” and navigate the range paths.

The new three-dimensional archery range allows veterans to navigate the path and shoot at animal decoys at the 20 stations. Also the adapted skeet shooting range is complete with solar powered bi-level shoot houses and a concrete wheelchair path.

There are handicapped-accessible cabins and the opportunity for utilization of the countryside for hiking, hunting, fishing, four-wheeling, barbecues, sightseeing, canoeing, and golf. The camp also organizes trips off-site for other recreational activities, as well.

Chris’s father said he was born and raised in Valles Mines and he and his wife live in Arnold now. The family always considered Missouri their home during his 12 years on active duty with the U.S. Army which took them to other places.

The camp’s goal is to offer as much as possible to each veteran visitor at no cost to them by holding fundraising activities and through generous donors’ support. Veterans or other interested parties may contact the organization regarding access or support by visiting the website at www.chrisnealfarm.com.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup race will be broadcast live from Charlotte Motor Speedway at 5 p.m. Central Time on FOX Sunday. More racing schedules and information is available at www.nascar.com.

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Traci M. Black is a reporter for the Democrat News and can be reached at 573-783-3366 or at tblack@democratnewsonline.com.

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