BROOKLYN, Mich. (AP) — A U.S. Army veteran and Purple Heart recipient from Ohio has been selected as the honorary starter for the Pure Michigan 400 NASCAR race after his hope of honoring his 6-year-old son on race day resonated with voters in an online contest, organizers said Wednesday.
David Balestrino Jr. of Youngstown won the contest on the Pure Michigan Facebook page, getting hundreds of votes for his entry on why he wanted to honor Brady by waving the green flag Sunday at Michigan International Speedway. Pure Michigan is the state's tourism campaign.
"While serving in Iraq I missed the entire first year of Brady's life," Balestrino said in a statement. "That was the most difficult thing I ever had to go through." With the honor, he said, he hopes he "can make everyone who has served or is still serving proud."
Balestrino served as a combat engineer from 2003-2009 and received a Purple Heart during service in Iraq. For the contest, people submitted entries of 50 words or less explaining why they should be selected as honorary starter. His entry got more than 800 votes.
As honorary starter, Balestrino will get a pace car ride from NASCAR's official pace car driver and attend the NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers' meeting. TV personality and Traverse City native Carter Oosterhouse is Pure Michigan 400 grand marshal of the event.