Pics: Medal of Honor hero to be honored at NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day weekend

NASCAR driver Kurt Busch in front of Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Jason Dunham (DDG 109) on Naval Station Mayport, Fla. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Juel Foster)

Race cars are nothing new at the Dunham household, but the car parked in their driveway over the weekend might have caught the attention of a few passersby.

It was a Chip Ganassi Racing stock car, specifically the No. 1 machine driven by past NASCAR Cup Series champion Kurt Busch, and above the windshield is the name of Cpl. Jason Dunham.

The commanding officer of USS Jason Dunham and NASCAR Driver Kurt Busch show the name of U.S. Marine Corps Corporal Jason L. Dunham across the windshield May 10, 2021. (Bob Self/Florida Times-Union/TNS)

The display car’s arrival from North Carolina was a surprise for the Medal of Honor recipient’s parents, Dan and Deb Dunham. They were expecting an interview with Tom Rinaldi of Fox Sports Saturday morning ahead of the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

When they looked outside their window, though, NASCAR had already arrived in the small Allegany County town of Scio, where Dunham grew up helping his dad work on race cars.

On Sunday, Jason Dunham will be featured on Kurt Busch’s Chevy Camaro as each car on the track bears the name of a fallen soldier during the Coca-Cola 600 Memorial Day weekend, one of the signature races on the NASCAR schedule.

Marine Corps Cpl. Jason Dunham. (Staff Sgt. Scott Dunn/U.S. Marine Corps)

“Jason liked racing,” said Dan Dunham. “He asked me to race again when he got out of the service. He helped out as a kid. It was something we thought he would do, so we agreed to do (the tribute). Plus, it gives all of our military exposure. It’s not just about Jason, it’s about them all as a group.”

Dunham was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor after he covered up a grenade with his helmet to shield his comrades from the blast, saving the lives of several fellow Marines in Iraq in 2004. Today, the Navy’s USS Jason Dunham bears his name, as does the Scio post office and a stretch of state Route 19 through his hometown, among many tributes to his service and sacrifice.

Dan Dunham raced on dirt tracks across the region for decades before hanging up his helmet. Given the family’s history in the sport, Dan and Deb agreed to participate in the NASCAR tribute when they got a call from Chip Ganassi Racing a few weeks ago. Ganassi officials learned of Dunham’s story after reaching out to the VA.

“We try not to do anything we don’t think Jason would do. I think because this is connected with racing he’d be in awe that his name is out there,” said Dan. “If he was here he’d be sitting there saying wow, this guy did this on that car and that guy did this on that car. Jason was very athletic and very motivated to do his best, but he would also mention all the other guys out there.”

The Dunhams expect their interview to air on NASCAR Race Hub before the race, which starts at 6 p.m. Sunday. Footage may also be featured during the race called by Jeff Gordon, Clint Bowyer and Mike Joy as Fox pays tribute to the fallen soldiers being recognized Memorial Day weekend.

“I hope people remember that Memorial Day should not just be one day of the year,” said Deb Dunham. “We should honor our veterans every day for everything they’ve given us.”

Deb sent Busch a Jason Dunham “Always Faithful, Always Strong” challenge coin that he will carry during the race, the longest event of the NASCAR season that tests both speed and endurance.

“This is way too much for me to hold and keep forever,” Busch said during a tour of the USS Jason Dunham earlier this month. “I will race with this challenge coin in my left pocket for the Coca-Cola 600 in a few weeks. … But I won’t keep it. It needs to go back to her and the family. It’s quite an honor to be able to do this.”

Busch was given an American flag that has flown on the ship. It will wave over the No. 1 car’s pit box at the race.

Among all the tributes, Dan Dunham thinks this weekend would rank near the top of the list for his son.

“He would appreciate the Medal of Honor but I don’t think it would be at the forefront for him, because he was too humble,” said Dan Dunham. “He would probably think the ship is No. 1 because it’s a battleship, but I think this would rate right up there in the top three. It’s an awesome tribute. There’s been so many. It’s overwhelming.”


(c) 2021 The Evening Tribune

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.