James V. Carroll

Freedom Car: a valuable tool

It's April, and barring a few nasty turns from Mother Nature, warm weather is starting to settle upon us. And every weekend, hundreds of thousands of fans will travel to race tracks across the country to root on their favorite drivers, cars and teams. Racing - particularly NASCAR - is among the top spectator sports in the United States. Millions of fans will watch, either in person or on television, the Sprint Cup Series alone.

But there are smaller racing leagues below the Sprint Cup Series that still draw a lot of attention and loyal fans. One of them, the Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA), features our very own Freedom Car both on the track and on national TV on the SPEED Channel.

The American Legion/David Law Firm 76 Freedom Car is a diamond in the rough. Despite being partnered with The American Legion since October 2005, some Legionnaires don't really know much about the racing program or its relationship with the Legion. The David Law Firm has helped countless veterans receive compensation from asbestos-related health conditions.

There is a perception that the national organization is spending money supporting the Freedom Car. In fact, it's the exact opposite. American Legion National Headquarters provides no monetary support but gives Team Johnson Motorsports exclusive marketing rights to raise funds for the 76 Freedom Car. That means that funding for the Freedom Car comes through the generosity of the David Law Firm, from the generosity of our membership through direct donations, and from the sale of merchandise through Emblem Sales or directly from Team Johnson Motorsports.

Like many of our successful programs, Legion Racing is a grass-roots effort. It starts at the post. On the Legion Racing Web site is a schedule of races for this season. The Team Johnson Racing Motorsports team is more than happy to visit Legion posts in the area when it travels to races. In fact, the team, particularly owner Jack Johnson and his son, driver Jerick Johnson, want to come to your post.

I've probably been to 30 races in which the Freedom Car has participated, and I've gotten several opportunities to see Jack and Jerick. Watching Jerick, a member of the Sons of The American Legion, talk about the Legion, its mission and what it means to him to be representing our organization is impressive. He's passionate, and he's convincing. For someone who just recently came into our organization from the outside, and who didn't really know what The American Legion was all about, he really has caught on to all of it. He's been to a lot of places and has seen what the Legion is doing, and he's read a lot of material. He's made it a point to learn about this organization, and the result is he's a great spokesman for The American Legion. Jerick is an all-American kid who has made a choice to represent The American Legion for as long as he can. He's chosen racing as a career, and he's chosen to carry the banner of The American Legion with him. We're lucky to have him as a part of our team.

But don't just take my word for it. When Team Johnson Motorsports is in your area for a race, invite them to your post for a show-car appearance. Jerick, Jack and the rest of the crew will bring the Freedom Car to your post. Open the post up to the community when you do. Let your members, and even prospective members, hear what Jerick has to say. It's a win-win situation. You're providing exposure for the program, and at the same time you're gaining exposure for your post. And you may bring in a new member or two in the process.

There are other ways to support the Freedom Car:Conducting post, district or department fundraisers for the race program.Securing an associate sponsor for the team, which will award the post a 10-percent finder's fee; orBecoming an honorary associate sponsor.

There's something that every post can be doing to support this program. And when you consider how much exposure auto racing gets, along with the demographics it appeals to (including many younger veterans), it makes perfect sense for the Legion to be in this partnership. We're not up there racing against multi-million dollar programs right now; nor are we making a national impact.

But Jerick is coming off a Rookie-of-the-Year performance in the ASA Challenge Series, and he's currently in third place in the ARCA Series rookie points standings. We can make an impact regionally right now, with your help and support.

Butch Miller served as the Legion's national commander from 1998-1999.