Cory Collins' upcoming first ride in a NASCAR car will be a once-in-a-lifetime event that helps raise awareness for a cause close to his heart.
Collins was selected by the Wounded Warrior Project in mid-February to have a car designed in his honor by Concord's Sam Bass, NASCAR's first officially licensed artist. The national nonprofit provides more than a dozen programs to wounded warriors and their families. It has helped thousands of U.S. veterans like Collins since forming in 2003.
Collins, a Concord resident and Iraqi Operation Freedom veteran, was nearly killed in November 2005, 27 days after arriving in Mamoudiyah, Iraq, to serve in the Army's 101st Airborne Division. Based south of Baghdad, he was a non-commissioned officer and lead truck commander of a four-vehicle convoy on personal security detachment for the colonel and sergeant major of the 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment.
His Humvee blew up after driving over a 500-pound improvised explosive device (IED). The three younger soldiers under his command died. Collins broke or shattered nearly 30 bones and recently chose to have his left leg amputated above the knee to avoid further surgeries.
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For being a wounded warrior and an advocate of the nonprofit organization, Collins was asked to be part of the pre-race ceremonies for the Goody's Fast Pain Relief 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup race on April 3 at Martinsville Speedway in Virginia. Two Bass-designed race cars will circle the track and promote two national nonprofit organizations. Collins will be in a car representing the Wounded Warriors Project, and Eleanor Bolton, an 8-year-old with a muscle disorder, will represent Victory Junction Gang Camp in a car designed in her honor.
Each honoree will have two paint schemes, and fans can help select each nonprofit's winning design. Voting on the designs is scheduled to run March 7-17 on the Goody's Powder and BC Powder's Facebook fan pages. The designs with the most "likes" from each charity will be wrapped on a full-size race car.
Collins, 32, moved to Concord about year ago with his wife and kids. He had been in the Army eight years before his first tour in Iraq in 2005, serving with the 101st Airborne Division, 2nd Brigade "Black Hearts." He has been a NASCAR fan since he was a boy, along with his father, a former mechanic at General Motors.
He takes pride in being an unofficial spokesman for Wounded Warriors and being able to help others who face challenges similar to his own.
"I know how hard it is for some of these soldiers coming back with an injury or a problem that's going to be an issue for the rest of their life and getting into that role of making everything right and learning to live again," said Collins. "Every aspect of my life is different than it was 10 years ago. For me, it's about helping others and making their speed bumps a lot smaller."
Bass called Collins to discuss the car's future design. On Feb. 22, the two revealed the design Sam Bass Gallery near Charlotte Motor Speedway. Collins' wife, Paula, also attended.
Bass made Collins' family photos look like Polaroids and scattered them throughout the two car designs. A tattoo on Collins' right arm, which represents the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association, the Wounded Warrior logo, 101st Airborne Division insignia and other symbols from Collins' life are incorporated into the design.
"I tried to take the information he gave to me and translate it on a race car so it would be meaningful to him, as well as everybody else that was seeing it at the race track," said Bass. "When I talked with him, it just brought it all together. We have a lot in common. He's an amputee. I'm an amputee. I lost my left leg to diabetes. But I asked him about dozen questions: 'Are you a race fan? Who's your favorite driver?' And when he said Jeff Gordon I was thrilled to death because I design all of Jeff's cars. Having lived through what he's lived through, he can share that and touch a lot of peoples' lives."