FORT WORTH, Texas (June 8, 2013) – In a tribute to heroes, Plaza Towers Elementary School teachers Jennifer Simonds and Anna “Sam” Canaday will serve as co-Grand Marshals and West, Texas Volunteer Fire Department Captain CJ Gillaspie as the Honorary Starter for tonight’s Firestone 550 IZOD IndyCar Series race at Texas Motor Speedway.
Simonds and 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.
The duo, which will give the command to start the engines together, 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.
Gillaspie 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, who will wave the green flag to start the race, 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.
The trio received a rousing round of applause the IZOD IndyCar Series drivers’ meeting and were presented checkered flags signed by the entire field from Texas Motor Speedway. Racing legend Mario Andretti visited with the group prior to the drivers’ meeting and reigning Indy 500 champion Tony Kanaan is scheduled to visit with them on the grid during pre-race ceremonies.
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.