The American Legion "Be The One"

There’s much more to racing than sleek cars speeding around a racetrack trying to get to the finish line first. There are many other layers that tell a broader story. Take Chip Ganassi Racing and its sponsor The American Legion as a prime example.

On Nov. 27, CGR and The American Legion announced that Linus Lundqvist will drive the No. 8 The American Legion Honda throughout the 2024 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season. That news was just the start; this story goes much deeper.

These two organizations, which have been partners since 2021, have established connections that go well beyond the proud red, white and blue colors on CGR’s The American Legion Honda.

This partnership is about saving military veterans’ lives – literally.

The American Legion’s mission with Chip Ganassi Racing and within the NTT INDYCAR SERIES is to spread awareness of the number one issue in the veteran community -- suicide. According to the National Veteran Suicide Precention Annual Report, it is estimated that 17 veterans take their lives each day.

“If we save one life today, that big number that everybody talks about goes down by default,” said Dean Kessel, chief marketing officer of The American Legion. “That’s the only metric that matters.”

One of the initiatives to raise that awareness began Nov. 28, Giving Tuesday.

Chip Ganassi Racing is using the global generosity movement that helps transform communities across the world to encourage fans to think about The American Legion as a preferred charity during this season of generosity.

On Giving Tuesday, the partners collaborated and launched “12 Days of #VetsGiving,” featuring prize packages listed for auction and with a buy-it-now option.

This initiative, #VetsGiving, was first launched by the team in 2022. Nearly $40,000 has been raised, with all proceeds going directly to The American Legion.

12 Days of #VetsGiving is just one way to spark awareness. So is the “Be The One” campaign fans will continue to see on Lundqvist’s car in 2024 after appearing on CGR Hondas driven by 2023 Rookie of the Year Marcus Armstrong, seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, Indianapolis 500 winner and INDYCAR SERIES champion Tony Kanaan and two-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Alex Palou in recent years.

“They (Chip Ganassi Racing) have rallied behind our mission, launching not only a brand last year, but also our ‘Be The One’ platform, which is all about destigmatizing veterans asking for help,” Kessel said. “The visibility is off the chart, and for our 1.6 million members across the country, this is amazing.”

Part of this partnership is an activation unit at every NTT INDYCAR SERIES race venue. On race day for the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by RP Funding in 2023, a life was saved at that unit.

Kessel said a young man was walking around by himself at that activation unit for about 30 or 40 minutes. He finally mustered enough courage and walked up to a representative and said, “Hey, I need to talk to somebody.”

“We found out he was active duty in the military,” Kessel said. “He was supposed to go out for his 17th tour, and he said that the only way to not go back out there is if he was no longer here, and that he did not want to go back out. We had our service officer there and someone from the VA (Veterans Administration) there that could talk to this young man and get him the right resources.

“We found out he was from Florida and lived near a very active (Legion) Post. We helped connect him to our tribe in Florida. We found out he liked to ride motorcycles. We have a 300,000-person group called “The American Legion Riders,” and that group has wrapped their arms around this young man and made him a part of their tribe. We check on him about every two weeks through the VA, and he is doing very well.”

Later that afternoon, Marcus Ericsson won the race in a Ganassi car. Kessel mentioned in a phone call to team owner Chip Ganassi later in the day that the team achieved two victories that afternoon in St. Petersburg.

“I did not get a chance to see Chip after the race, as we were still dealing with this,” Kessel said. “I called Chip from the airport, and I first of all congratulated him for the race, but I told him, ‘Chip, we actually won twice today.’ He said, ‘Well, what does that mean?’ and then I told him the story.

“I could hear it in his voice. His father served and drove a tank in the Army. His voice started to crack a bit, and he said: ‘I’ve been a part of a lot of sponsorships over the years. I’ve sold a lot of products for a lot of companies, but I have never had the opportunity to save somebody’s life.’ He thanked us for trusting his organization to be a part of this mission.”

Without this sponsorship-team partnership and their initiatives and activations, another veteran’s life could have been lost this year. Due to this partnership, a veteran was saved.