FORT WORTH, Texas – Texas Motor Speedway has added extra significance to tonight’s completion of the Firestone 600 by making it “Back The Blue Night.”
The evening at the 1.455-mile oval will honor police officers and first responders in the Dallas/Fort Worth area who, along with a guest, will receive free admission to the resumption of the race that was suspended by rain June 12 after 71 laps. First responders need only show proper ID at the Gate 4 entrance to the track.
When a sniper's attack on July 7, 2016, killed five Dallas police officers, Mike Zizzo, vice president of media relations at Texas Motor Speedway, felt that honoring local police was important and that the Verizon IndyCar Series race was the right venue.
"When it hit that close to home, we felt that we want to really do something that shows support of the police officers," Zizzo said. "So when the Dallas incident happened, we did exactly that. We had it up on the marquee out at the speedway.
“Then we felt with the INDYCAR race coming back to finish the Firestone 600, that it was just a great opportunity just to do it even more and also give an opportunity for the officers to come out with their families and enjoy a night out when they are off duty."
Two notable local police will serve as co-grand marshals for the race: Jorge Barrientos of the Dallas Police Department and Matt Pearce from the Fort Worth Police Department. The two men, who will give the command for the cars to restart their engines at 9:17 p.m. ET today, are survivors of gunshot wounds sustained in the line of duty.
Barrientos was working traffic control during a peaceful protest July 7 when a sniper began shooting in downtown Dallas. He was shot in the hand and received shrapnel wounds in his chest but continued providing help to his fallen partners. Three of the five officers who died that day were from his unit.
Pearce was shot multiple times March 15 – in the cheek, arm, chest and leg – while pursuing a fugitive in western Fort Worth. Also sustaining a bruised heart and fractured femur, the 36-year-old spent two months in the hospital. Pearce will also be a special guest of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver Graham Rahal tonight.
"It's an honor to have these great police officers with us for the completion of the Firestone 600," Rahal said. "They are true heroes of this great country that make us very proud and keep us safe.”
Rahal and the rest of the Verizon IndyCar Series field of drivers will meet the two heroes before the race. The drivers have been asked to wear caps from various Texas area law enforcement agencies in pre-race introductions and autograph the caps to give to each respective agency. A special “Back The Blue” decal will be on each of the 20 cars racing tonight.
Also, Paul Spencer, chief of the Addison, Texas, Police Department, and some of his officers will be guests of Dale Coyne Racing team manager Darren Crouser. Spencer, a longtime friend of Crouser’s, will also man the pit sign for the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda of Gabby Chaves.
Fans returning to the race will be admitted free with their ticket from the June start of the event. Tickets may also be purchased for $28 and $10 for children 12 and under. For more information on tickets and special promotions for tonight's race, visit texasmotorspeedway.com.
On-track action begins with a practice session at 5:30 pm ET (RaceControl.IndyCar.com). The field will be split into two groups, with each group receiving 10 minutes of track time. An autograph session on the main concourse follows from 6:30-7:15 p.m. ET. Coverage of the remaining 177 laps of the Firestone 600 begins at 9 p.m. ET on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.