Richard Petty Motorsports and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Aric Almirola logged some extra time on the track this weekend at the Kentucky Speedway. With sponsor Eckrich, part of the John Morrell Food Group, a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods, and Operation Homefront, they surprised a special member of the U.S. military and his family with a 'Ride of a Lifetime'.
United States Marine Corps Corporal Sebastian Gallegos, a 23-year-old Purple Heart recipient, and his wife, Tracie are VIP guests of the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports team, Eckrich and Operation Homefront this weekend. Saturday morning, the Gallegos received a 'Ride of a Lifetime' around the 1.5-mile track with Almirola in an Eckrich-branded Richard Petty Driving Experience Ford Fusion. In addition to the morning event, the Gallegos will get a behind-the-scenes tour of the garage and track and all-access with the No. 43 team prior to settling in atop the pit box for the night's race.
This isn't the first time, though, that the Gallegos family has been surprised by Almirola.
As part of "Operation Inspiration", a campaign initiated by Eckrich and Operation Homefront earlier this year, Almirola, NASCAR Hall of Famer "The King" Richard Petty and television personality Al Roker made a trip to San Antonio in April to surprise Sebastian and Tracie. The Marine, who lost his right arm while serving in Afghanistan, and his wife, a nursing student are living rent-free in the Operation Homefront Village while he receives necessary medical and rehabilitation treatment. With their car in need of major repairs, the group presented the family with a new 2013 Ford Fusion, which will be specially modified to accommodate driving with a prosthetic.
The couple's story and the surprise in San Antonio will be featured in the half hour NBC special hosted by Roker, which airs on local NBC stations across the country tonight, June 29, and in syndication throughout the summer. The special, sponsored by Eckrich, is aimed to honor, thank and support the military families who inspire us.
"This is so awesome," said Sebastian. "When Aric, The King, and Al Roker presented us with our new car, we were blown away. Now, to have this opportunity, we don't know what to say. We are really thankful for the race team, Eckrich and Operation Homefront for this experience."
"We are so excited to see Sebastian and his wife, Tracie, again," said Almirola. "All that Eckrich and Operation Homefront do to help support and assist our military families is amazing. I am honored to be able to be a small part of what they do. Families like the Gallegos are an inspiration to us all."
Eckrich is providing additional assistance to military families by donating up to $250,000 to Operation Homefront this year through the donation of five cents from the purchase of specially-marked packages through July 4.
"We are very excited about the debut of the 'Operation Inspiration' television special tonight," said Chuck Gitkin, vice president, marketing, innovation and R&D for the John Morrell Food Group. "It has been our privilege to get to know the military families we are profiling in the show, like Sebastian and Tracie. Being able to provide this experience is just a small way to thank them for all they have done."
Almirola and the No. 43 Eckrich Ford will race under the lights at Kentucky Speedway Saturday night. Television coverage will begin at 7:30 p.m. ET on TNT.
For local listings, more information and a preview of the NBC special, please click here.