ERLANGER, Ky. - It's not every day that a hero gets his due, but it happened at Flagship Park in Erlanger, Ky. Thursday morning. At around 9:30 a.m. Sam Deeds, 35, of Independence learned he had won the right to have his name added to one of his favorite sporting events.
This year's NASCAR Brickyard 400, July 28 in Indianapolis, will officially be called "The Sam Deeds 400 at the Brickyard."
"I've been a NASCAR fan for as long as I can remember, so the reality of having my name on a track with such rich history and meaning is beyond words," said Deeds. "I am so grateful to all of those who took the time to hear my story and vote for me. I can't wait to attend the race and dedicate that special weekend to all fellow servicemen and women who put their lives on the line every day."
His wife April nominated Sam for the Crown Royal "Your Hero's Name Here" contest, and he won, garnering the most online votes from friends, family and strangers around the country.
"We could not be more honored to announce Gunnery Sergeant Samuel Deeds as the 2013 ‘Your Hero's Name Here' winner," said Abby Wise, Brand Director for Crown Royal. "His sacrifice and continued acts of heroism serve as an inspiration to all of us at Crown Royal and we are proud to provide him with the ultimate race experience at the Brickyard next month.
Along with the VIP treatment, Deeds, gets to deliver the race trophy bearing his or her moniker to the winning driver in Victory Lane.
"He's a very big hero to me," said April Deeds, explaining why she nominated her husband. "He just doesn't value his own life compared to other people's lives no matter what the cost."
A hero at war, peace
During his Iraq deployment in 2005, Deeds came across an improvised explosive device (IED) while setting up a vehicle checkpoint near Abu Ghraib Prison. When he saw two of his fellow Marines approaching the area, Deeds turned back toward the IED to warn them of danger. Moments after successfully warding off his comrades, the device blew.
"It basically leveled me," he said.
For his actions, Deeds received a Purple Heart, two Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals, a Combat Action Ribbon and the Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal.
In 2008, Deeds was recovering surgery on a beach vacation with his family when he saved a drowning swimmer and two people trying to help.
"People were taking pictures and videos with their phones, and nobody was going to do anything," he said. "I couldn't let the guy drown in front of his family."
Deeds plunged into the rip tide and helped all three return safely to shore.
He medically retired from the marines in 2011 with the rank of gunnery sergeant. Over the course of his injury-shortened career, he served Iraq, Japan, South Korea, and Haiti (twice). He also has worked in Greater Cincinnati as a recruiter.
Big hero, Big NASCAR fan
Deeds has a passion for NASCAR, watching every race on TV except for the ones he attends with friends or his son, Micah, 6, a budding fan.
"I've been watching it on TV as long as I can remember," he said. "The first race I actually attended was in New Hampshire with my grandfather."
Deeds was on the road west of Nashville when a contest official called to tell him he was a finalist for the naming award.
"I was like, do what? Come again?" he said laughing.
Deeds has only met one current Sprint Cup Series driver and is thrilled at the prospect of meeting more of his own heroes.
"I follow them on Twitter and watch the races," he said. "It's going to be unbelievable."