Dozens of health care heroes named grand marshals for NASCAR Darlington race


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When NASCAR returns to the racetrack on Sunday for the first time in over two months, dozens of frontline health care workers will be honored during The Real Heroes 400 at Darlington Raceway.

The NASCAR Cup Series at Darlington will follow the launch of The Real Heroes Project, which is a collaboration with 14 sports leagues including NASCAR, to recognize the medical professionals who are serving on the front lines during the fight against coronavirus.

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“As the coronavirus challenges our country in unprecedented ways, the frontline healthcare workers – the nurses, paramedics, emergency physicians, and many others – continue to inspire us with their strength and bravery in caring for their fellow Americans,” Jill Gregory, NASCAR executive vice president and chief marketing and content officer, said in a press release. “These men and women are the real heroes and the NASCAR industry is incredibly proud to honor their selflessness and service as we return to racing on Sunday.”

NASCAR, FOX Sports, and the race teams came up with the idea to have the name of an individual healthcare worker battling the coronavirus pandemic replace the driver’s name above the door on each car and The Real Heroes Project logo displayed on the side. The healthcare workers will also serve as grand marshals for The Real Heroes 400 and they will simultaneously appear in a live stream to give the command for drivers to start their engines.

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Denny Hamlin, one of the top favorites to win the race, will have Michelle Vaughan represented on his car. Vaughan, a nurse in an intensive care unit, developed a creative way to allow patients on a ventilator to hear their loved ones’ voices. Through a project called “Be There Bears”, family members can record a message over the phone that’s installed in a stuffed animal that can play for their loved ones in the ICU.

Michael Palmer, a registered nurse, will have his name appear on Jimmie Johnson’s race car. Palmer works in the emergency room at Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital and has been on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic. He oversees and cares for patients, and has worked in temporary tents to test and treat patients for the virus.

The other health care workers who will be honored and the drivers, noted in parentheses, include:

Dr. Mark Morocco (Cole Custer); Dr. David Zich (Tyler Reddick); Shirley Gardiner (William Byron); Jake Hopkinson (Erik Jones); Ricardo Perez (Matt DiBenedetto); Dr. Aamir Latif (Ty Dillon); Dr. Robin Armstrong (Daniel Suarez); Walter “Buddy” Standridge (Chase Elliott); Misty Brooks (Alex Bowman); Dr. Seetha Lakshmi (Aric Almirola); Tatyana Huber (Brennan Poole); Martina Symons (Brad Keselowski); Dr. Greg Beilman (Michael McDowell); Amy Marsch (Kurt Busch); Dr. Sarah Nickoloff (Matt Kenseth); J.T. Corbitt (Christopher Bell); Dr. Wheeler Jervis (Martin Truex Jr); Elisa Bowman (Austin Dillon); Cindy Sheets (Clint Bowyer); Dr. David Aronoff (Ricky Stenhouse Jr.); Tammy Lee Wheaton King (John Hunter Nemechek); Dr. Marwan Elya (Ryan Blaney); Chad Richard (Corey LaJoie); Lindsey Hayko (Ryan Preece); Dr. Benjamin Petty (Ryan Newman); Aaron Allred (Joey Logano); Kimberly W. Ebb, MD (Chris Buescher); Misty Dufrene (Bubba Wallace); Dr. Susan Ryan (Quin Houff); Frank Mercuri IV and Stacey Anne Wilson (Reed Sorenson); Heather Pleasant (Kyle Busch); Dr. Josh Hughes (Kevin Harvick); Yaritza Abreu (Josh Bilicki); Michael Rivera (Joey Gase); Sgt. Michael Minerva Jr (Garrett Smithley); Lt. Richard Straub (JJ Yeley); Samantha Tushaj (Timmy Hill); Maria Figueroa (BJ McLeod).

The Real Heroes 400 will be broadcast live on Fox at 3:30 pm ET, Sunday, May 17.



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