One of the coolest things about Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 is that all 40 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers will bear the name of a fallen service member on their race car windshields.
All of those servicemen had a story. Aaron Reed, whose name will grace the No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet of Dale Earnhardt Jr., is just one example.
In 2005, Reed was a 21-year-old lance corporal in the U.S. Marine Corps. He was deployed in Iraq and was killed in action by an improvised explosive device.
Reed was from Chillicothe, Ohio, where his family still lives. He had round glasses that made him look a little like Harry Potter and a fondness for strawberry milkshakes.
A man who knew Reed from the Marines called his mother many years later. The man works for Nationwide now. His name is Jason Dominguez. He had arranged for Reed’s name to be placed on Dale Earnhardt’s Nationwide car for Sunday’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“I don’t follow NASCAR at all,” Sara Duvall, Reed’s mother, told me Monday. “But I do know who Dale Earnhardt Jr. is, and it is very nice that people are still remembering Aaron.”
Duvall is a schoolteacher in Ohio. She is technically retired but still goes in to help elementary students with reading and math every day. Her husband runs a dairy farm. The cows still need to be milked twice even on race days, so he won’t be in Charlotte. But her sister is coming, courtesy of Nationwide, as are Aaron’s sister and her husband.
There is a story like that on every windshield Sunday. Many of the families of the service members being recognized will also be in attendance at Charlotte Motor Speedway as the track plans to host more than 6,000 active military members at the Coca-Cola 600 in honor of Memorial Day.
“Each of the names proudly displayed on these race cars tells a story of honor and sacrifice,” said Brent Dewar, NASCAR chief operating officer. “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.”