Hometown hero: Local retired Marine a finalist to have his name on NASCAR's Brickyard 400

INDEPENDENCE, Ky. - Update: On May 27, Sam Deeds got to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at the Reds game. There's still time to help him win the "Your Hero's Name Here" contest.

Samuel Deeds slipped quietly into civilian life in Independence, Ky., after saving lives during and after his time on active duty with the Marines.

The silence of this modest hero has been broken by his wife, April. She secretly nominated Deeds for "Your Hero's Name Here." Sponsored by Crown Royal, the contest allows the public to select a veteran, police officer, firefighter or first responder to have the Brickyard 400 in Indianapolis named in his or her honor. The race takes place in Indianapolis on July 28.

Deeds, 35, is one of five finalists from around the country and will join the others at the race. All the contestants will get the VIP treatment. If he wins, the race will be dubbed the "Samuel Deeds 400 at the Brickyard." The contest winner gets to deliver the race trophy bearing his or her moniker to the winning driver in Victory Lane.

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. His injuries set him on a path of nearly 40 operations and procedures to date.

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.

The moment he put his colleagues' lives ahead of his own may have cemented his legacy as a military hero, but he wasn't finished sacrificing his own welfare.

In 2008, Deeds was recuperating from one of many surgeries--this one to repair a high-incision hernia. The surgical area was sutured and covered with a protective mesh. The doctors told him to avoid any strenuous activity for eight weeks.

Six weeks into his recovery, Deeds was relaxing with his family on a beach when a woman was carried away by a rip tide. The woman's husband and another man tried to save her, but all three were overcome by the current.

"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. The protective mesh and two sutures tore away, leaving a hernia so close to his sternum he opted not to have any more surgery. He's been living with pain ever since.

Deeds 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

"He's a very big hero to me," said April Deeds, explaining why she nominated her husband for the "Your Hero's Name Here" contest. "He just doesn't value his own life compared to other people's lives no matter what the cost."

Samuel Deeds happens to have 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 think he knows more about NASCAR than most of the commentators. He's always saying things before they do," April Deeds said.

Deeds doesn't dispute the characterization.

"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. He called every NASCAR fan friend he could think of to find out who nominated him before finally reaching out to his wife, who confessed.

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."

April Deeds is working hard to tell her husband's story in the hope that he wins the contest and all the additional thrills that will entail. Win or lose, she's looking forward to race day.

"When I found out he was a finalist, I was just completely blown away," she said. "I just knew how much it would mean to him to just go to the race and be able to meet the drivers and hang out in the pits. I just know he'll be smiling all day."

The contest

  • Anyone 21 or older can vote in the contest by visiting  http://yourherosnamehere.nascar.com
  • Voting ends June 9, and the winner will be announced later that month.
  • Samuel Deeds is chronicling his effort to win the contest on Twitter @marinegunney.
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