Jeff Matthews and his Indy Lights Series race car with the Blue Star Banner. (Photo by James V. Carroll)

Indy race car wears Blue Star Banner

Soon after Firestone Indy Lights Series car owner Jeff Matthews learned about the Blue Star Banner, which recognizes families with loved ones serving in the global war on terrorism, he made a decision to display one the rest of the 2009 season and beyond.

"It's on there full time," said Matthews, 36, of Speedway, Ind., gesturing toward the Blue Star Banner prominently placed on the hood of his eFusion Energy Club car. He recently showed off the vehicle at American Legion Post 145 in Avon, Ind.

Asks Matthews: "How could you not support the Blue Star Banner?"

The American Legion resurrected the tradition of distributing the banners, commonly displayed during World War II, to military families shortly after Operation Enduring Freedom began in October 2001. Each blue star on a banner represents a family member serving in the war.

"We've got it on the car for good," said Matthews, who learned of the tradition after a dinner with Ralph "Zoc" Zoccolillo, who coordinates one of the nation's largest Blue Star Banner Salutes to honor military families from Indiana on Armed Forces Day. This year's event at O'Reilly Raceway Park in Clermont, Ind., drew a record-high 1,200 registrants.

Matthews said he immediately attached a Blue Star Banner decal to the hood of the car, driven by Mike Potekhen of Phoenix, for Memorial Day weekend, and in time for the warm-up to the Indianapolis 500. The banner has been there every race since. The Firestone Indy Lights Series follows the Indy Racing League (IRL) schedule and serves as a proving ground for up-and-coming drivers, cars and owners. The season continues into November.

"We're hitting major markets across the country," says Matthews, who displays the banner at no cost to the Legion or anyone else. "We just want to do whatever we can to help military families and build awareness for this program. We are getting the same kind of exposure for the Blue Star Banner as the (major IRL) teams, with their $9 million budgets."

The eFusion Energy Club car has traveled, and will continue to travel, the nation as the season progresses. Matthews says wherever he goes, military families take notice of the banner. "The first thing they want to know is how we know about the Blue Star Banner. They are amazed that the Blue Star Banner is on a car. Then they ask if they can get in and take a ride."

The "getting-in-and-riding" experience is reserved for Potekhen, a steady performer in the series whose top finish this year has been 11th at Watkins Glen International on July 4.