Today is Veteran's Day and we must all take a moment to honor and thank all of the veterans who have served this country and kept us free. On this day, I'd like to pay a personal tribute to my favorite veteran and race fan, Gary Buchanan.
For most NASCAR fans, patriotism and racing are intertwined. Gary's story as a race fan and veteran is no different.
Buchanan grew up in rural West Virginia. He was raised as the only son and the middle child between two sisters.
In his growing up years, he was a Boy Scout, then an Eagle Scout. And in West Virginia, you couldn't help but tinker with old cars, laying the foundation for his future love of racing.
He decided at a very young age and right out of high school, to enlist in the Army. As he had in Scouting, he progressed quickly, becoming a member of the fighting elite, the Green Beret.
After spending tours of duty all over the world and in missions too sensitive to talk about even now, he returned stateside. He then began one of his favorite assignments, guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
It was there in Arlington Cemetery that we met. Although he was "off duty" at the time, he showed our group all around the cemetery and the town.
He adopted our class of students there for a semester and was involved in almost every event. We adopted him as well and a friendship, and then something further began.
Gary then decided to leave the service and pursue his college education. He did so, graduating and then going to law school at West Virginia University. We got married shortly thereafter and have stayed together for almost 30 years.
While Gary never grew up as a NASCAR fan, he soon caught the bug. After spending several nights at Selinsgrove Speedway and picking the dirt from the track from his hair for days afterwards, he was hooked.
Several summers ago, we were fortunate enough to befriend a Camping World East team and driver and that solidified his fandom. Gary spent a glorious summer helping out in the pits and even serving as catch-can man for many of the team's races.
Gary is now a passionate race fan, hardly missing a race on television or in person. His first pick as a driver was Michael Waltrip, and Gary shows his loyalty every day by continuing to root his "Mikey" around the track, no matter what predicament his driver gets himself into.
He loves the fact that NASCAR is filled with patriotism. Yes, he gets a little misty as we all do during the national anthem and cheers madly for every fly over.
Gary enjoys the strategy of the race, but most important the people he has met along the way. He talks to anyone, from Cup drivers to the young newbies coming up.
He seems to love talking to the up-and-comers the best, spending hours with them and their family members.
Gary has favorite NASCAR media members as well. When he travels to the races in person, he always makes a point of taking snacks to ones that he is especially fond of to sustain them in their work.
Gary has won more medals in his service than perhaps any of his family will ever know. And he has shared them with friends who have battled cancer, as well as his sister who wore one for her funeral after losing her battle to breast cancer.
He is a veteran and he is race fan through and through.
So, on this Veteran's Day, I pay personal tribute to my favorite veteran and my best NASCAR fan partner.
Happy Veteran's Day, Gary Buchanan!