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NASCAR driver Martin Truex Jr. to honor Vietnam War hero

Pres. Donald Trump hosts NASCAR Cup Series champion Martin Truex Jr. (ABC/YouTube)

This weekend’s nod to America’s servicemen and women at Charlotte Motor Speedway will have a Kansas twist thanks to a driver who calls Kansas Speedway his home track.

Martin Truex Jr., the reigning champion of the Monster Energy Cup Series, will drive with the name of Arlen Del Richardson, a Lawrence, Kan., native who died during the Vietnam War in 1970, emblazoned across the top of his windshield.

Sunday night’s Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte, N.C., is part of NASCAR’s “600 Miles of Remembrance.” Truex’s No. 78 Toyota will feature Richardson’s name throughout the race.

All NASCAR drivers are taking part of the 600 Miles of Remembrance. Truex’s Denver-based team is the only one on the Monster Energy Cup Series not based in North Carolina.

Richardson served in the Army for seven years and was 27 at the time of his death. During his service, Richardson was a medevac helicopter pilot in Vietnam. He also served in the 123rd Aviation Battalion.

He was killed on Feb. 17, 1970, during a reconnaissance mission in Quang Ngai Province. He was survived by his wife, Sharon Draper, and their son, Ryan, as well as parents Clara and Delbert, sisters Clarice and Dee Dee and brother Daryl.

Richardson’s wife has been remarried for 20 years to Ed Draper, a vice president at Furniture Row, which sponsors Truex’s car. Ed Draper was at a loss for words upon learning that Barney Visser, the owner of Furniture Row Racing, would be honoring Richardson in such a way.

“I don’t even know if I can come up with the right word,” Draper said. “We are ecstatic and thrilled that this is happening. It has been such a long time, but it’s honoring his memory for him and his family.”

Sharon Draper and sons Mark and Ryan, who was 5 months old when his dad died, plan to be at the race in matching shirts to help honor Richardson’s memory.

“Though it was 48 years ago when we received the news about Arlen, we continue to think about him and remember that day as if it were yesterday,” Sharon Draper said in a news release. “… We’ll be in Charlotte cheering on Arlen and Martin and hopefully take part in a victory celebration.”

That’s certainly a distinct possibility. Truex won the Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte in 2016 and finished in third place last year.

“It is military members such as Arlen whose courage, dedication and selflessness allow us to enjoy our freedom,” Truex said in a statement. “His name on the windshield of our No. 78 race car will definitely be an inspiration to me. I want nothing more than to drive our car with Arlen’s name on it to Victory Lane.”

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© 2018 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.)

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.