NASCAR rallies around front line workers with ‘The Real Heroes Project’

NASCAR is teaming up with “The Real Heroes Project” to recognize and honor the courage of frontline workers who have stepped up and put others before themselves throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

After NASCAR and the rest of the sports world were sidelined in the beginning of March, athletes from 14 professional sports leagues got busy and came together to honor the real heroes using various social media platforms, community outreach and their charities. These everyday sports heroes flipped the script and became the fans for a change.

Reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Busch and 2014 NASCAR Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick are the drivers participating in “The Real Heroes Project” by honoring a special healthcare hero who is helping the community on forefront of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The Real Heroes Project” also invites sports fans to join these world-class athletes on social media and dedicate their personal jerseys and team apparel to a frontline individual using the hashtag #TheRealHeroes

“Recognizing heroes and honoring those who serve, whether its members of the military or first responders, has always been very true to the DNA of our sport, our competitors, and of course, our fans,” said Jill Gregory, NASCAR executive vice president and chief marketing and content officer.

The multi-league public service announcement debuted across league and team platforms on Wednesday, May 6.

The PSA features athletes, including Busch and Harvick, recognizing heroes working on the front lines across the country and honoring them by sporting their names on the athletes’ most recognizable gear – their uniforms. The campaign also includes New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, New York Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge and United States Women’s National Soccer Team stars Carli Lloyd and Alex Morgan, among many other superstar athletes across both sports and esports.

On Harvick’s Stewart-Haas Racing Busch Beer firesuit is Dr. Josh Hughes, an emergency medicine physician with the Mid-Atlantic Emergency Medical Associates practice and the assistant director of the emergency department at Novant Health Presbyterian in Charlotte, N.C.

“My day-to-day is driven by what I did beforehand, and that is taking care of sick and injured patients in our community,” Hughes explained. “In the emergency department this means triaging patients, working towards a diagnosis, treating and stabilizing patients and then determining a disposition for them, whether that be at home or in the hospital.

“With COVID-19, there are, of course, additional challenges and considerations. I have to constantly consider whether a patient could have COVID-19 regardless of their presenting symptoms, and be more vigilant about keeping myself and staff safe.”

Harvick is a friend of Dr. Hughes and has made a point to be a support system during the COVID-19 situation.

“Kevin and I enjoy road bicycling,” added Hughes. “He’s been a great friend to me and I’m not sure I’d be dealing with the COVID-19 anxiety as well as I have been without the many rides we’ve been on during this.”

Hughes and his wife Noel have an eight-year-old son named Dixon and a five-year-old daughter Ellie, and he is thankful for the support system his family has provided.

And Busch is honoring another vital person in the fight against COVID-19. The PSA features the No. 18 driver adding “EMT Heather Pleasant” to the back of Busch’s Joe Gibbs Racing M&M’s firesuit.

Pleasant is an avid NASCAR fan and her favorite driver is Busch, a two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion. She and her husband, Chad, are both EMTs where they live in Spartanburg, S.C. with their three children. The couple continues to serve on the front lines as first responders, helping to transport patients with COVID-19 symptoms to area hospitals.

In addition to the symbolic gestures associated with “The Real Heroes” campaign, the NASCAR industry has stepped up in other ways throughout the crisis.

NASCAR has been utilizing 3D printers at the Research & Development Center located in Concord, North Carolina, to produce face shields for healthcare workers. In total, 2,000 face shields have been sent around the country for medical professionals.

Several well-known drivers participated in a public service announcement to thank the front-line individuals, encouraging people to stay home and social distance. FOX, NBC Sports and other channels joined the effort by airing the PSA for support.

And while the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series has been entertaining fans in the absence of on-track activity, each week The NASCAR Foundation has teamed with charities or foundations affiliated with the local tracks to lend a helping hand to those affected by the pandemic. Most recently, the Foundation joined the #GivingTuesdayNow movement, standing together in unity with people around the world sharing the same mission of helping children in need.

The Pro Invitational Series will wrap up this Saturday in the debut of iRacing’s virtual North Wilkesboro Speedway. The race will air at 3 p.m. ET on FOX, FS1 and the FOX Sports App.

Greg Engle