Sandy Hook Fire Chief and Newtown Fire Marshal Bill Halstead has been a fan of auto racing since his youth. So it may have been an understatement when he describes the experience of unveiling a brand new NASCAR vehicle at the site of the Daytona 500 as thrilling.
Chief Halstead, along with his fiancé, Newtown Town Clerk Debbie Aurelia, were on hand February 14 as NASCAR, Swan Racing and two-time Daytona 500 champion Michael Waltrip announced a special tribute to raise awareness and contributions for the Sandy Hook School Support Fund.
Following a private meeting with town officials, community leaders, first responders and victims’ families last week in Newtown, NASCAR, Swan Racing and Mr Waltrip announced that the No. 30 Lean1 Swan Racing Toyota will instead be No. 26 Sandy Hook School Support Fund Toyota. Mr Waltrip’s ride for the Daytona 500 on Sunday, February 24, at 1 pm, will be broadcast on the on FOX network.
He and his team will honor the 26 victims of Sandy Hook Elementary School and prominently feature a call-to-action decal encouraging the NASCAR community to make $10 donations by texting NEWTOWN to 80888.
The Sandy Hook School Support Fund, established jointly by United Way of Western Connecticut and Newtown Savings Bank, supports the healing process for the broader Newtown community including children, teachers, first responders, families, residents, mental health professionals, counselors and others, following the tragic events that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December. One hundred percent of the funds raised for the Sandy Hook School Support Fund go to meet the needs of the Newtown community.
“Americans everywhere are heartbroken about the tragedy in Newtown and Swan Racing is proud to join NASCAR and the United Way of Western Connecticut to help the community move forward,” said Swan Racing owner Brandon Davis.
In addition to piloting the No. 26 Newtown car in the Great American Race, Mr Waltrip confirmed at the unveiling that all three Michael Waltrip Racing entries will run the “text NEWTOWN to 80888” decal for the Daytona 500.
“Driving the No. 26 Sandy Hook School Support Fund Toyota is like nothing I have ever been part of in my NASCAR career,” Mr Waltrip said. “It will be an emotional week knowing that we have the potential to do so much good for the Newtown community. I’m racing for a reason.”
NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France also announced that he and his wife Amy would personally kick off the NASCAR industry support with a $50,000 donation that will be matched by The NASCAR Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that embodies the compassion of the NASCAR family and its commitment to serving communities.
“Being in Newtown last week and delivering a moment of happiness to that community was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced,” said Mr France of the meeting that occurred under a press blackout. “Looking out at a room of smiling faces amidst the aftermath of a horrible tragedy was very powerful. It hit me that the NASCAR industry and our passionate fan base have an unbelievable opportunity to rally around this cause and make a huge difference for a community in need. I am excited to witness firsthand the NASCAR community’s embrace and support of the Sandy Hook School Support Fund.”
Rooting For No. 26
The Sandy Hook School Support Fund recently announced in cooperation with the Newtown Rotary Club Foundation that funds are available to help with the immediate financial and mental health needs for people impacted by the tragic events of 12/14.
“One thing I can tell you for sure, is that there will be a whole lot of people in Sandy Hook and Newtown rooting for Michael and the No. 26 car,” Chief Halstead said. “It will be something positive to rally around, and there will be smiles on faces that haven’t smiled in quite a while.”
Chief Halstead, who was among the first emergency responders on the scene the morning of 12/14, told The Bee that Mr Waltrip only races a few times a year on the circuit, and that he is “a very good driver.”
“NASCAR is big on helping people out,” Chief Halstead said. “And it was an honor for us to be here representing Newtown.”
The local fire official said as a fan, he has been to Daytona before, and during a previous tour of the grounds, was whisked past the NASCAR facility where the unveiling of car #26 occurred on Valentine’s Day.
“We went on a tour, but I never had access like this,” he said. “Getting to meet and talk with several drivers, and to help pull the cover off this car was incredible.”
Chief Halstead and Ms Aurelia along with several other members of the Sandy Hook volunteer company, which shares a driveway with the Sandy Hook School, will be returning to see this year’s Daytona race, and to root for #26 and Mr Waltrip and his team in person.
The NASCAR community can contribute to the Sandy Hook School Support Fund by texting NEWTOWN to 80888. For fans without short-code texting plans with their wireless carriers, there are two additional opportunities to donate. Donations can also be made online at newtown.uwwesternct.org or by mail to: Sandy Hook School Support Fund, c/o Newtown Savings Bank, 39 Main Street, Newtown CT 06470.