With Veterans Day this weekend, I wanted to use my blog to honor our nation’s military, and speak specifically about some of the things we’re doing to help veterans lead better lives, especially back in my native state of Michigan.
Anyone who is a fan of mine knows how highly I regard our soldiers and first responders. I come from a military family, and as I’ve written before, when I win a race and fly the American flag afterward, it’s because of what it means to the people who see it—in particular, our veterans. Maybe it makes people feel good about the fact that they served. Maybe it reminds people of their parents or family members service. Hopefully, anyone who served feels honored by the gesture.
NASCAR has a long history of honoring veterans. When it was founded in 1948, a lot of the people involved with the sport were former members of the military. Because of all the history, there’s a real connection between the world of racing and the military that’s pretty unique to NASCAR. A lot of the qualities of the military made their way into our sports. Racing teams have to have discipline and follow orders, or bad things can happen. You spend a lot of time traveling from place to place, and the road and your team become your home away from home for a lot of the year.
A PLACE TO CALL HOME
A big difference, though, is that when our veterans come home from their service, they often face new challenges. When I drove for Dale Jr.’s NAVY team, I started meeting with recovering soldiers at Walter Reed Hospital, seeing what they’d been through and hearing their stories. And then when I moved to Team Penske, they had a long-standing relationship with the Paralyzed Veterans of America, so I’ve had a chance to interact with that organization as well. It profoundly affected me. The experiences I’ve had with members of our military through my foundation, the Checkered Flag Foundation, have deepened my appreciation for soldiers, and the incredible sacrifices that they and their families make for all of us.
I came to understand that when veterans come home, they really need places that will provide them the support that they need. That’s why I’m excited to talk about a few things that we’re doing this weekend, and beyond.
The first is the Tribute2Veterans, which my foundation did in partnership with Team Penske and Miller Lite to raise money for veterans. Fans and families of service men and women nominated a person that has sacrificed for our country, and each nominee will have their name displayed on the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford Fusion this weekend at Phoenix International Raceway. (The same list will actually appear on Chase Briscoe’s No. 29 Checkered Flag Foundation truck in Friday’s race, too.) Afterward, each person will receive a piece of the No. 2 car’s sheet metal that shows their name along with a photo of the car and a letter of thanks. I’m so grateful for everyone who chose to participate, and made the Tribute2Veterans a reality.
Next, we have an announcement about a new partnership with the Fisher House Foundation. Fisher House is best known for a network of comfort homes where military and veterans’ families can stay at no cost while a loved one is receiving treatment. These homes are located at major military and VA medical centers nationwide, close to the medical center or hospital they serve. After I visited a Fisher House in Georgia, I decided that I wanted to help open one in Michigan. To that end, I’ve donated $150,000 to Fisher House to build a location in Ann Arbor.
Finally, I want to talk about my partnership with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), and the Pure Michigan Talent Connect job web site. As a Michigan native, I have a lot of pride in my home state, and the work MEDC and Pure Michigan are doing to help veterans is something I’m especially proud of.
Michigan’s already leading the way in terms of giving veterans a great place to live and raise their families. Grand Rapids was just ranked the second best place to raise a family in the entire country. The state’s got more freshwater coastline than any other state, 650 public golf courses, 1,300 designated mountain bike trails, 102 state parks, 600 campgrounds, four professional sports teams, the University of Michigan (Go Blue!)—you get the picture.
What makes Pure Michigan Talent Connect special is that it helps veterans and reserve members find a variety of programs, jobs and businesses designed to match their skills with employers’ needs. In addition, the employers on Pure Michigan Talent Connect not only respect our military, but understand the value of hiring from such an experienced, talented workforce to their shops, factories and offices. You can find the web site at the link below:
And right now, the career opportunities in Michigan are pretty incredible. Currently, Michigan is No. 1 in the U.S. for creating new manufacturing jobs, No. 1 in employment of industrial and mechanical engineers, and No. 3 in high-tech job growth. Not only that—the state has several programs which allow high school graduates in certain areas to pursue post-secondary degrees with up to 100 percent tuition reimbursement or scholarship.
To any veteran out there looking for a place that will look after him or her, that will provide a great place to live and some of the best employment opportunities in the nation, I urge you to consider Michigan.
Finally, to all the veterans we’re honoring this weekend: Thank you for everything you’ve sacrificed for the rest of us to be free. My family and I could not be more proud of all that you do.