When Kansas Speedway hosts its first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event of the year, it will happen six days after Memorial Day, a day of remembrance for those who have lost their lives in service for their country. Throughout the years, there have been countless military members who have put their lives on the line to save their friends and on June 5, Kansas Speedway will recognize one of those men - retired Col. Don Ballard, who selflessly put himself in harms way to protect his fellow comrades from enemy fire.
“I’m excited that Don Ballard has accepted our invitation to be a part of our pre-race ceremonies,” said Kansas Speedway President Patrick Warren. “Don went above anyone’s expectations in saving several Marines in Vietnam with his quick thinking and selfless actions. To be able to recognize him at his hometown track in front of tens of thousands of race fans is an honor.”
In 1968, Ballard was a Navy Corpsman assigned to the Marines during Vietnam. As he attempted to move several injured Marines to a safer location, Ballard’s unit was ambushed. He repeatedly exposed himself to hostile fire as he moved and treated the Marines. At one point, the location was engulfed in crossfire and an enemy hand grenade landed amongst the wounded. Ballard picked it up and threw it back. After a few minutes, another grenade was thrown at his position. Not having time to pick it up, he selflessly threw his body on the grenade to protect his patients. After a few minutes with no explosion, Ballard reached underneath him and grabbed the grenade and threw it away. According to witnesses, the grenade exploded in midair seconds later out of harms way.
In 1970, Ballard, who had left the Navy and was selected for Army officer candidate school, was called to the White House to receive the Medal of Honor from President Richard Nixon. At the White House, an offer was made of a direct commission to be an active duty Army officer. Due to family reasons, he turned down the offer but was persuaded to join the Kansas Army National Guard. Ballard retired from the Guard in 2000.
Kansas Speedway tickets are on sale now for the 2011 season. Season tickets are available and include two NASCAR Sprint Cup races, the O’Reilly Auto Parts 250 NASCAR Camping World Truck race, the Kansas Lottery 300 NASCAR Nationwide Series race and a Track Pass for each Sunday race event. Individual tickets are also on sale now for all events (June 4 O’Reilly Auto Parts 250, the June 5 STP 400 at Kansas Speedway, the Oct. 8 Kansas Lottery 300 and the Oct. 9 Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway). Tickets are available by calling 866.460.RACE (7223) or by logging onto www.kansasspeedway.com.
Parking at Kansas Speedway is always free and fans may bring one 14x14x14-inch soft-sided cooler into the grandstands to enjoy their favorite food and beverages.