Retired U.S. Army Sergeant Dennis Latowski and his family got a close-up look Thursday at a NASCAR pit stop - on their own car. No. 43 Eckrich® Ford driver Aric Almirola and his pit crew surprised the Brighton, Mich., family with an expert tune-up of their personal vehicle, going under the hood to make sure the family was safe on the road. The complimentary check-up, conducted outside Michigan International Speedway, was an effort on behalf of team partner Eckrich to thank the family for the sacrifices they have made for their country.
The No. 43 team and Eckrich, part of the John Morrell Food Group, a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods, made the surprise pit stop as part of Eckrich's partnership with Operation Homefront, a national non-profit organization that provides emergency financial assistance to the families of United States service members and wounded warriors.
The Eckrich pit crew inspected the Latowski vehicle and tuned up, tightened or adjusted anything that required attention. The surprise didn't end there. Almirola announced to Latowski that his name would be featured on the hood of the No. 43 Ford as part of the Eckrich paint scheme for Sunday's Pure Michigan 400 at the Brooklyn, Mich., speedway. The driver then presented the family with a gift package that included Eckrich products and VIP passes to the race. The Latowskis' VIP experience will include pace car rides, an introduction at the race-day drivers' meeting, and a meet-and-greet with race team owner and NASCAR legend Richard Petty.
The Michigan race is the third event of the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season where the Eckrich colors will adorn the No. 43 Ford. On each race weekend, the Richard Petty Motorsports team and Eckrich have shined the spotlight on a local military family through a media event and VIP race experience. Almirola, who was born on a U.S. Air Force base, feels a special connection to military causes like the Eckrich program with Operation Homefront and has enjoyed playing a leading role in events like Thursday's surprise tune-up.
"What a great program we have going this year with Eckrich, drawing some much-needed attention to military families," said Almirola. "Our guys are going to spend hours working on our Eckrich Ford this weekend. But before we go under the hood of our race car, we wanted to come out here and do a tune-up for Dennis and his family as a way of saying thanks for everything they've gone through as a military family. They're not quite ready to enter the race on Sunday, but our guys made sure they'll be safe on the road driving around town."
Eckrich has already donated $200,000 to Operation Homefront through the contribution of five cents from each purchase of specially marked products from May 1 through July 4. The company and Richard Petty Motorsports' No. 43 team also launched a coin collection program with a special bank made out of a race tire. The coin bank is traveling with the Eckrich show car to encourage fans to donate spare change to help military families. The bank will be at the Eckrich display on the Michigan International Speedway midway this weekend.
"We've really enjoyed giving these families an experience to remember," said Charles Gitkin, vice president, marketing, innovation and R&D for the John Morrell Food Group. "When it comes to military families, a lot of focus is often on the send-offs and the homecomings, but there's a lot of time in between when they often need a little extra support. We're happy to work with Operation Homefront to help provide that."
Almirola and the No. 43 Eckrich Ford will compete in the Pure Michigan 400 Sunday afternoon. The race will be televised live by ESPN.