INDEPENDENCE, Ky. — Samuel Deeds started watching NASCAR Sprint Cup races “in the mid to late 80s” with his grandfather.
“I’d watch it and he’d fall asleep,” quipped Deeds, a Howland native.
Deeds and his grandfather attended local races at Oxford Plains Speedway and Hermon’s Speedway 95 and attended their first Sprint Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, N.H., in 1997.
Deeds had just graduated from Marine Corps boot camp in Parris Island, S.C.
He has been to several Sprint Cup races since then and one of five finalists to have his name attached to the Brickyard 400 in Indianapolis on July 28.
The decorated retired Marine was nominated by his wife, April, for the “Your Hero’s Name Here” contest sponsored by Crown Royal. The contest enables the public to choose a veteran soldier, police officer, firefighter or first responder who has performed heroic deeds to have the Brickyard 400 named in their honor.
Those who want to help Deeds win can do so b y casting a vote at yourherosnamehere.nascar.com by June 9.
Deeds said if he wins, and if NASCAR and Crown Royal go along with it, he would like to call the race the “Samuel Deeds Fallen Heroes 400.” The winner will also get to ride in the pace car before coming to the pit area where he will watch the cars take the green flag. The contest winner will also present the trophy to the winning driver.
Deeds’ heroics weren’t just confined to the battlefield in Iraq, he also saved a man from drowning in North Carolina.
In Iraq in 2005, gunnery sergeant Deeds was setting up a vehicle checkpoint when he noticed a couple of rock piles he hadn’t noticed earlier in the day. He became suspicious.
Two members of his platoon were approaching the rock piles when he heard a noise. Deeds put down his radio and ran back to the rock piles to warn them and make sure they had cleared the area near the rock piles. He saved their lives.
However, as Deeds turned to walk back to his humvee, insurgents detonated the improvised explosive device, and he was severely injured.
He was flown to Germany and then back to Camp Lejeune (N.C.) to recover. He has since undergone 40 surgeries.
He received a Purple Heart, two Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals, a Combat Action Ribbon and the Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal.
Deeds downplayed his heroism.
“I was just doing my job, trying to protect my Marines,” he said.
His infantry days were over but he wound up becoming a mechanic working on the MV-22 Osprey for the remainder of his career. The MV-22 Osprey is a multi-mission tiltrotor aircraft with the ability to make a vertical takeoff or landing.
Deeds retired in 2011 and is spending his time at home with his wife and their two sons, Micah (age 6) and Myles (2).
In 2008, while recuperating from hernia surgery, Deeds was vacationing at the beach with his family when a woman was carried away by a riptide and her husband and another man tried to rescue her.
But all three of them were imperiled by the current.
Deeds dove into the water and rescued one man before directing the rescue squad to the other two. Two of his protective hernia sutures and the protective mesh were torn away.
“I couldn’t let their children watch them perish,” explained Deeds. “Once I entered the water, my adrenaline kicked in. I forgot about everything else.”
He received the Navy-Marine Corps medal, which is the top award given for heroism outside of combat.
Deeds was surprised to hear he was even nominated, let alone a finalist for the NASCAR award.
“I asked some of my NASCAR buddies to see if they had put my name in but they hadn’t. I mentioned it to my wife and she said ‘Oh, I nominated you a month ago.”
“He is so much of a hero in every sense of the word to me,” said April Deeds. “And I’m sure he’s the biggest NASCAR fan among the five finalists. He’ll be watching a race and will tell me a little story about one of the drivers and, 10 seconds later, the commentator will say the same thing.”
He is a little overwhelmed.
“I never thought anything like this would happen to me, especially coming from smalltown, USA,” said Deeds, who played soccer and basketball at Penobscot Valley High School but spent his springs working and preparing to achieve his longtime goal of becoming a Marine.
“I knew at a real young age that I wanted to be a Marine,” said Deeds, who also served in Japan, Greece, South Korea and Haiti.
“The Marine Corps has taken me everywhere. It wasn’t always fun and games but I tried to make the best of it. I got to change lives for the better and I’m happy about that,” said Deeds, who watches as many of the NASCAR series (Sprint Cup, Nationwide, Craftsman Truck) races as he can.
He was a Marine recruiter in the Cincinnati area and got to know Sam and Ed Rensi of the Team Rensi Motorsports Team, which sponsored a Nationwide Series car. The Marine Corps came on board as a primary sponsor in 2001 when he was a recruiter.
He would take recruits, teachers and school board members to the Kentucky Motor Speedway on race weekends.
The 35-year-old Deeds and close friend Josh Mount have set a long-term goal to attend a race at every Sprint Cup track. They have already been to Darlington, Richmond, Charlotte and Dover and they are attending the race in Kentucky on June 29.
These days, his favorite driver is Kurt Busch.
Busch is the former ambassador of the Armed Forces Foundation and has done a lot for soldiers including putting military logos on his race cars.
And Deeds said if he wins, he would like nothing better than to present the trophy to Kurt Busch.
“That would be unbelievable,” said Deeds who predicted a win for Busch on Sunday night at the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.