Roush Fenway Racing hosts traveling 9/11 exhibit’s visit to Concord

ljohnson@charlotteobserver.comMay 23, 2014 

A Kannapolis firefighter snaps a picture outside the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation’s traveling 9/11 museum that opened in Concord the same day the national museum opened in New York City.

LUKAS JOHNSON — ljohnson@charlotteobserver.com

When the 9/11 Memorial Museum opened in New York City on May 22, Concord’s Roush Fenway Racing offered race fans, military and first responders an exclusive look at a smaller, mobile exhibit.

Acts of patriotism will be found at every turn during the Coca-Cola 600, the longest race of the season that takes place every Memorial Day weekend.

As part of the industrywide initiative NASCAR: An American Salute, many drivers will run patriotic paint schemes that support military families and give thanks to active troops.

Custom automated homes

The country’s only 9/11 Never Forget traveling exhibit was created in 2013 by the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation as a tribute to all those who made sacrifices after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The national tour schedule is still being solidified.

Building for America’s Bravest is branch of the foundation that builds “smart homes” for the most catastrophically injured service members. The effort already has built nearly 35 smart homes in the U.S.

But, according to the nonprofit, for every home built for a veteran, three more veterans join the list.

The custom-designed, energy efficient, automated homes address the unique needs of each individual. Adaptive technology – computer hardware and software that connects people with disabilities to their homes – helps severely injured veterans live more independent lives.

“I’m humbled by what the foundation is doing here for the returning veterans,” said Jack Roush, founder, CEO and co-owner of Roush Fenway Racing.

Known for his die-hard patriotism, Roush said the events of 9/11 inspired him to add “USA” to his signature.

“That’s my tribute to all the injured and deceased firemen and first responders that were caught up in that horrible day,” he said.

‘They’re giving you your life back’

Marine Gunnery Sgt. Tom McRae will receive a smart home later this year.

McRae lost both legs and his left arm when he stepped on an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan in 2012 while assigned to explosive ordnance disposal.

He visited Concord May 21 to talk to visitors at the traveling exhibit and to meet NASCAR driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Stenhouse recently drove a car in the Sprint Showdown that featured a “ Buildings for America’s Bravest” paint scheme and included a thank-you message to McRae.

Stenhouse’s No. 17 Chevrolet Camaro failed to qualify for the All-Star Race, but the car continues to attract attention as a die-cast, scale-model collectible.

Concord-based Lionel NASCAR Collectibles will donate a portion of all its Stenhouse car sales to support the effort to build smart homes for veterans. A division of the famous toy train manufacturer, Lionel NASCAR Collectibles has already raised $250,000 for the smart home program.

“For wounded vets, period, I think (Building for America’s Bravest) is one of the best programs out there,” said McRae. “They’re not trying to take you out to dinner for one night, or cheer you up for a weekend. They’re giving you your life back – the independence to live freely – and that’s huge.”

McRae’s smart home will be built in Maple Hill, about 25 miles north of Wilmington and 15 miles west of the Marine base at Camp Lejeune.

Tunnel to towers

The exhibit also is used as a tool to educate America’s youth about the historic events of that day.

It includes artifacts, news and video recordings and live tours from New York City fire department heroes. It also features a segment about the 1993 World Trade Center attack.

The namesake of the nonprofit was a 34-year-old firefighter, the youngest of seven children in his family. He had just gotten off the late shift at Squad 1, Park Slope, Brooklyn.

Listening to his scanner on his way to play golf with his brothers, he heard the news that an airliner had hit one of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.

He drove his truck to the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, but it was closed. So he strapped 60 pounds of gear to his back, rushed on foot through gridlocked traffic and ran from the tunnel to the towers, where he gave his life saving others.

Emotionally moved

Jack Oehm, retired as a commander in the New York City fire department after 32 years as a firefighter, gave tours of the exhibit.

“Everybody who’s able to understand what happened to us that day is emotionally moved by the tour,” he said.

Oehm’s favorite part of the exhibit is a photo of Pfc. Kyle Hockenberry, a member of the Army1st Infantry Division who was hit by an improvised explosive device that detonated just outside Haji Ramuddin, Afghanistan.

In a photo taken at the scene, a medic tends to Hockenberry’s wounds aboard a medevac helicopter, minutes after the explosion. A tattoo on his ribcage reads, “For those I love I will sacrifice.”

The 19-year-old lost both legs and an arm in the blast.

“That says something about the caliber of young people that are willing to serve our country,” said Oehm, who lost 20 men, one-third of his battalion, on 9/11. “But I try to keep the tour light. I try to think about the bigger picture, because many silver linings have come out of it.”

Lionel president Howard Hitchcock said efforts like this create something positive out of something horrible.

“Your NASCAR fan is your firefighter, your police officer and military (person),” said Hitchcock. “That’s the core fabric of this sport, and that’s why it’s so connected. The Memorial Day program that happens here every year for the Coca-Cola 600 … commemorates that and allows us to give back to our servicepeople.”

Johnson: 704-786-2185

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