Veterans in INDYCAR honored on IMS’ Crown Royal’s Wall of Gratitude
Andy Bowman spent 30 years in the U.S. Army and National Guard before retiring as a first sergeant. A member of Speedway Post 500 just across the street from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS), he now spends a good portion of his spring and summer as the garage/pit lane flagman at the track during its racing season.
Bowman admits to normally shifting attention to others, rather than himself, but he didn’t have that option May 21 at IMS. He and four other former servicemembers recently featured in The American Legion’s Veterans in INDYCAR online series were at the center of attention.
All five found their names etched onto the Crown Royal Wall of Gratitude at IMS. Located in the infield near Turn 2, the wall honors more than 50,000 military members for their service to the nation. Servicemembers are nominated to be placed on the wall.
“I’m speechless,” Bowman said after seeing his name on the wall. “I’m usually the cheerleader. I’m usually not the one who gets recognized. It’s hard to put it into words, honestly.”
Bowman comes from a long line of veterans, and he gave those who came before him credit for his choosing the military as a career.
“My grandfathers on both sides served. I had seven uncles that served. My wife served,” he said. “All those people before me that served are a major reason why I went into the military. When my uncles served, I was a snot-nosed brat. Seeing them in uniform and seeing them go off to Vietnam, Korea, places like that – they’re my heroes.”
A similar sentiment was expressed by Brian Mahone, the director of safety and security for Indianapolis Motor Speedway/INDYCAR. An eight-year U.S. Marine Corps veteran who served in Operation Desert Storm, Mahone said his family also is steeped in military tradition, and that being honored on the wall wasn’t just for him.
“For me, I kind of accept this for my family,” Mahone said. “Both my grandfathers served. My dad served. My brother served. And I’ve got eight uncles who all served. So almost every male in my family served. I see my name up there and I see them. It’s awesome.”
Dave Berkenfield, who serves as team manager for CGR’s Extreme E program, spent 24 years in the military and is a retired U.S. Navy SEAL. A member of American Legion Post 341 in Cicero, Ind., Berkenfield said IMS has strong ties to the military, which made being honored even more special.
“I think the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a pretty special place for everybody in Indiana, and frankly, in America,” Berkenfield said. “The fact the Indianapolis 500 is on (Memorial Day weekend), it’s sort of synonymous with veterans and veterans’ service to community and country. To be recognized by Crown Royal and put on the wall for perpetuity, that’s pretty special.”
Ben Christian, a race transport driver and the inside rear tire changer for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s No. 30 car driven by Jack Harvey, served in the U.S. Marines as a machine gunner from 2009 to 2013, with deployments to Haiti and then Helmand Province in Afghanistan.
Being honored on the wall was, “pretty big. It’s a good feeling,” Christian said. “I think it’s important that (IMS) takes time and does this. It’s really a good thing for them to do: to extend this honor to guys and girls. It means the world to me, and I know it means the world to a lot of other people.”
The fifth veteran honored was Jason Bolles, a race transport driver and pit crew member for Andretti Autosport. Bolles served in the U.S. Army National Guard from 1991 to 2001, being activated during Operation Desert Storm. Bolles said after seeing his name he was, “very proud. I never expected anything like this. It shows (IMS) respects veterans.”
· Click here to read Andrew Bowman’s Veterans in INDYCAR profile.
· Click here to read Brian Mahone’s Veterans in INDYCAR profile.
· Click here to read Dave Berkenfield’s Veterans in INDYCAR profile.
· Click here to read Ben Christian’s Veterans in INDYCAR profile.
· Click here to read Jason Bolles Veterans in INDYCAR profile.