United States Army veteran David Balestrino Jr. has a passion for NASCAR and his favorite driver - Kasey Kahne - but it's one he enjoys sharing with his 6-year-old son Brady.
He spent the first year of Brady's life in Iraq.
It's the bond the two share which won David a dream trip to Sunday's Pure Michigan 400 as the honorary starter.
Special to Tribune Chronicle
David Balestrino Jr., back, and his son, Brady, are NASCAR fans and David, a U.S. Army veteran, won the chance to be this year’s honorary starter at Sunday’s Pure Michigan 500 for a submission honoring his service and the sacrifice to be away during Brady’s first year.
The 27-year-old served as a combat engineer from 2003-09. His entry, which had to be 50 words or less, got 814 votes.
"I'm David Balestrino, a Purple Heart veteran while in Iraq from a roadside bomb," he said in his entry. "My son who is 6 and I are huge NASCAR fans. I missed the first year of his life and would love to drop the green for him! Please help me repay him for his sacrifices also!"
Balestrino entered an online contest on Pure Michigan's Facebook page to be an honorary starter for Sunday's Pure Michigan 400 when he, Brady and his father, David Sr., were at Michigan International Speedway on Father's Day to see the Quicken Loans 400.
"I actually liked their Facebook page - Pure Michigan's Facebook page. That's when I saw the contest. So I figured what the heck, try it and see what happens."
The Father's Day trip was actually one Balestrino had been wanting to take for quite a while.
"Right before I left for Iraq, my father said that 'if you make it home, I'll take you to a NASCAR race,' " said David Jr., a 2004 Chaney High School graduate. "He knows how I am with NASCAR. We finally got around to going to it."
Balestrino will be standing high atop the start/finish line at Michigan International Speedway to wave the green start flag and get to mingle with the sports elite drivers. Balestrino said the meet and greet affair is a NASCAR fan's dream - one he gets to share with his son, Brady.
"I'm going to be very proud of my service," Balestrino said. "I'm extremely excited for Brady, just knowing how he is with racing. He loves, loves racing.
"He understands what the military does. Parents leave and sometimes parents don't come home. He understands the sacrifice military families go through. For him to be out there and to be able to meet all the drivers and get pictures with all the drivers, autographs. Hopefully he'll be able to get into the stand with me to drop the flag and pace car rides. He'll be in all of his glory, that's for sure."