INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Howland native Sam Deeds and wife April knew this past weekend was going to be special. And it certainly was.
After all, the Brickyard 400 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was called Crown Royal Presents the Samuel Deeds 400 after the decorated Marine veteran won Crown Royal’s Your Hero’s Name Here contest.
He was chosen from among five finalists in a fan vote.
“[The weekend] was amazing,” said Sam Deeds. “It was beyond my expectations.”
Deeds was a gunnery sergeant in Iraq who saved the lives of two Marines after he noticed a suspicious pile of rocks, heard a noise and ran to warn them. However, terrorists detonated the improvised explosive device, which seriously injured him. He has had 40 surgeries.
He also swam out to help save the lives of three swimmers caught in a riptide years later while vacationing in North Carolina.
Deeds and April, who nominated her husband, spent this past weekend involved in a series of activities at the race and the Indiana 250 Nationwide race.
The Deedses attended the hauler parade on Thursday and toured the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum on Friday. Deeds waved the green flag to start Sprint Cup qualifying on Saturday while also attending the Indiana 250. On Sunday, he attended the drivers’ meeting, greeted the drivers during the driver introductions before the race and presented the winning trophy to winner Ryan Newman.
Deeds also had the opportunity to ride on the back of a pickup truck with one of the drivers after the driver was introduced and that driver just turned out to be Newman, an Indiana native who had also won the pole.
The Deedses also got to kiss the bricks after the race, an Indy tradition, with the other Your Hero’s Name Here finalists, singer Cassadee Pope, singer Justin Moore, and the band The Cadillac Three. Pope was the winner on “The Voice” in 2012.
Sam Deeds said one of the highlights was getting to meet the other finalists and getting to know them.
“I got to thank them for their service,” said Deeds, who added that he was indebted to his wife for making it happen.
He said kissing the bricks was special.
“We had rubber all over our noses and chins but it was well worth it,” he said.
Moore sang a song called “Heroes” when it was revealed to Deeds that he had won the contest. There was a free download offered and every download resulted in a dollar being donated to the Armed Forces Foundation. Deeds said it raised $10,000.
Another highlight was handing the trophy to Newman.
“He was just the third guy to win the Brickyard from the pole in the 20-year history of the race and I had a chance to ride in the truck with him [after introductions],” said Deeds. “At first, we didn’t talk about racing. We talked about fishing. He told me one of the ponds near the speedway had some big fish and if I got the chance, I should go up there [and fish].”
They also discussed the NASCAR Craftsman Truck race on the dirt track at Eldora Speedway in Ohio on Wednesday. Deeds attended the race and Newman finished third. Austin Dillon won it.
Deeds said all the people he talked to, including drivers, owners and crew chiefs, thanked him for his service.
“I met all the drivers but I was actually able to carry on conversations with 10 to 12 of them,” said Deeds.
That list included Tony Stewart, Greg Biffle, Danica Patrick, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Jeff Burton, Newman and Dale Earnhardt Jr. He said he also had a nice chat with owner Richard Childress.
He had two model cars autographed by Patrick and Earnhardt Jr.
He said the Hall of Fame featured a car driven by Dan Wheldon, who was killed in an Indy Car race crash in 2011.
“It was a nice tribute to him,” said Deeds.
He also received prints of pictures with him, Stewart and Newman in one and another with him presenting the trophy to Newman.
April said “there are no words to describe [the weekend].”
“It was amazing. My husband couldn’t stop smiling. I think he slept with a smile on his face,” said April. “I can never be grateful enough to Crown Royal for doing this. And meeting the other finalists was so special. They have all done so much themselves.”