U.S. Army veteran and Purple Heart recipient David Balestrino Jr. has been named honorary starter for the Pure Michigan 400 being held this Sunday, August 18, at Michigan International Speedway. Balestrino was the winner of a fan contest on the Pure Michigan Facebook page, receiving the highest number of votes for his entry on why he wanted to wave the green flag on race day.
Balestrino, of Youngstown, Ohio, served as a Combat Engineer in the U.S. Army from 2003-2009 and received a Purple Heart during his service in Iraq. In his entry, Balestrino said he would like to drop the green flag in honor of his six year old son.
“While serving in Iraq I missed the entire first year of Brady's life,” Balestrino said. “That was the most difficult thing I ever had to go through. I still can't believe that I was picked for this awesome honor and I hope that I can make everyone who has served or is still serving proud.”
As honorary starter, Balestrino will also have the opportunity to receive a pace car ride from NASCAR’s official pace car driver and attend the NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers’ meeting.
“We received many great entries from fans excited about race day at the Pure Michigan 400, but David’s submission really brought together a passion for racing and a terrific story that speaks to the spirit of Pure Michigan,” said George Zimmermann, Vice President of Travel Michigan, part of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.
For the Facebook contest, fans submitted entries of 50 words or less explaining why they should be selected as honorary starter. Fans of Pure Michigan voted on their top entries. Balestrino’s entry received more than 800 votes and was chosen by Pure Michigan from the 10 entries with the most fan votes.
“We are honored to have David here to wave the green flag on the Pure Michigan 400,” said MIS President Roger Curtis. “He will truly experience the thrill of the start of the race as the cars pass under him. We want to thank our friends at Pure Michigan for giving David the chance to become an integral part of the NASCAR experience.”
TV star and Traverse City native Carter Oosterhouse is serving as the Pure Michigan 400 grand marshal. Fans will also have one last chance to register to win the Pure Michigan 400 pace car on site race weekend at the Pure Michigan tent on the New Holland Fan Plaza.