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HEROIC SCHOOL TEACHERS FROM MOORE, OKLA., VOLUNTEER FIREFIGHTER FROM WEST, TEXAS, TO SERVE IN HONORARY ROLES FOR SATURDAY NIGHT’S FIRESTONE 550

by TMS Media Relations | Jun 05, 2013
  • Plaza Towers Elementary School Teachers Jennifer Simonds, Anna Canaday To Serve As Co-Grand Marshals And Give Command To IZOD IndyCar Series Field
  • West Volunteer Fire Department Captain CJ Gillaspie To Serve As Honorary Starter And Wave Green Flag To Commence Firestone 550

FORT WORTH, Texas (June 5, 2013) – Texas Motor Speedway, in conjunction with title sponsor Firestone, will utilize its honorary positions for Saturday evening’s Firestone 550 IZOD IndyCar Series race to pay tribute to individuals who exhibited tremendous heroism and to those who have been lost in the major tragedies recently in Moore, Okla. and West, Texas.

Plaza Towers Elementary School teachers Jennifer Simonds and Anna “Sam” Canaday risked their lives to protect their students when a tornado ravaged Moore on May 20 and completely demolished their school. The two teachers shielded eight to 10 kindergarten students with their bodies as the school collapsed around them and a car was among the wreckage that was on top of them. Twenty three in all were killed, including seven students at the Plaza Towers Elementary School that was in the direct path of the EF5 tornado.

Simonds and Canaday will be honored as co-Grand Marshals of the Firestone 550 and together will give the command to the IZOD IndyCar Series drivers to start their engines. The duo will be symbolic of all those who performed heroic duties and those who perished not only in Moore, but during other deadly tornadoes recently including Granbury, Texas, and the Oklahoma City and Tulsa areas.

 “I am so honored to be invited to Texas Motor Speedway to be the co-Grand Marshal,” Simonds said. “I have never been to a race before and I am so excited to come be a part of the Firestone 550. I know it will be a great race and a great way to honor all the heroes at Plaza Towers and the victims of the tornado. It's an honor to be chosen for this, but the honor goes to all the children, families and teachers of that day. I'm so grateful to be a part of this opportunity to shed light on them.”

Canaday had more misfortune strike as last week’s tornadoes in Oklahoma completely destroyed her family’s home and vehicles. Despite being consumed with their personal recovery efforts, Canaday, her two daughters and her parents will make the visit at the behest of her husband, who will stay back to care for their pets and other related issues.

“I really want to thank Texas Motor Speedway and everyone for doing this because it will give us a break from all the bad stuff,” Canaday said. “I’m very excited just to be even part of this, but I wish it could be for different circumstances. There are just so many people displaced right now.”

CJ Gillaspie is the captain of the West Volunteer Fire Department that was part of the team of first responders that risked their lives during the April 17 fertilizer plant explosion caused by ammonium nitrate that killed 15, injured more than 200 and damaged more than 150 nearby homes and buildings in the small town 18 miles north of Waco. Of those killed, nine were firefighters from five departments, including five volunteers from West.

Gillaspie will serve as the Honorary Starter and wave the green flag for the start of the Firestone 550. He will honor the courage of first responders and those that were killed from the West, Dallas, Bruceville-Eddy, Abbott and Mertens fire departments as well as his fellow West residents that were affected by the tragedy.

“I’ve watched racing ever since I was little and now being asked to be a part of a race of this magnitude is a great honor,” Gillaspie said. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be a part of. Getting out of West and enjoying the day with my wife, stress free, is a day I've been waiting for since the tragedy on April 17th. This is incredibly awesome.”

Texas Motor Speedway and Firestone plan to make special presentations to the trio and the Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center in Grapevine, a Preferred Hotel of Texas Motor Speedway, has graciously donated the group’s rooms in appreciation of their heroism.

“On behalf of Firestone and Texas Motor Speedway, we wanted to honor Jennifer, Anna and CJ for their acts of heroism while also paying tribute to those lost in the tragedies in Moore, Oklahoma, and West, Texas,” Texas Motor Speedway Vice President of Media Relations Mike Zizzo said. “These are everyday people who exhibited a tremendous amount of courage to save lives while risking their own, and probably would never consider themselves heroes for their selfless deeds. But they definitely are in many, if not all, of our eyes.”

 “On a larger scale, honoring Jennifer, Anna and CJ also gives all of us an opportunity to pay tribute to the heroes and those we lost in other recent deadly tornadoes in our region as well as express our gratitude for all first responders and the courage they continually display.

Simonds, Canaday and Gillaspie will be honored in front of one of the largest crowds of the IZOD IndyCar Series season as well as a national primetime television audience on ABC-TV. Simonds and Canaday will give the command at 7:40 p.m. CT and Gillaspie will wave the green flag from the starter’s stand at 7:45 p.m. to begin the 228-lap, 342-mile Firestone 550. Event coverage on ABC-TV begins at 7:30 p.m.

Tickets for the Firestone 550, beginning as low as $35 for adults and $10 for children 12 and under, are available by calling the speedway ticket office at (817) 215-8500 or by visiting www.texasmotorspeedway.com.

MEDIA NOTE: The Firestone 550 Honorary Starter CJ Gillaspie and co-Grand Marshals Anna Canaday and Jennifer Simonds will be available to the media at 4:30 p.m. Saturday in the deadline room of the Texas Motor Speedway infield media center.

For more information, contact TMS Media Relations at (817) 215-8520 or pr@texasmotorspeedway.com.

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