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June 28. 2013 12:33AM

NHMS to host first responders


Jerry Gappens, executive vice president and general manager of New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon. 2008 (THOMAS ROY / UNION LEADER)

New Hampshire Motor Speedway will honor first responders to the Boston Marathon bombings and Newtown (Conn.) school shootings during its next NASCAR weekend, July 11-14, an NHMS official said on Thursday.

Jerry Gappens, the speedway's vice president and general manager, made the announcement during the Champions Lunch in Boston, hosted by five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson.

"We have reached out to some of our corporate partners, and they are contributing money to allow us to host thousands of first responders and their families at the races," said Gappens. "So far, we have delivered 2,000 tickets, and the program will run right up to race weekend. We are using the platform of the largest sporting event (in New England) to get this message out, to say thanks to the first responders."

Gappens also announced that newly created T-shirts with the "Boston Strong" motto will be on sale throughout the July 11-14 events, which culminate in the New Hampshire 301 Sprint Cup race. All proceeds from sales of the shirts will go to victims of the Marathon bombings.

"We will use the venue, and the 100,000 people who will visit, to be a platform for the survivors," said Gappens. "Race fans love T-shirts, and they love a purpose. We expect these shirts will sell in big numbers. And in addition, our chapter of Speedway Children's Charities will take steps to help the young people who have been affected by these recent tragic events."

Originally planned as a celebration of local sports stars, the Champions Lunch took on new meaning after the April 15 attacks on the Marathon, Gappens said. Among those featured at Thursday's lunch was Richard "Dic" Donohue, the MBTA officer who was seriously injured in the shootout with the bombing suspects days after the Marathon.

"I have severe nerve damage in my foot, and I may never return to the job I love, but I am optimistic," said Donohue, whose wife, Kim, is a graduate of Exeter High School. "Those first responders who supported us — to me, these people are the champions. Without their support, we couldn't physically, mentally or emotionally heal from these attacks."

Said Johnson, "I was excited to meet Dic Donohue. He is a hero to me."

In addition to Johnson, champion athletes at the lunch included four who won titles as members of Boston teams, the Patriots Joe Andruzzi (2002, '04, '05), the Bruins' Johnny Bucyk (1970, '72), the Red Sox' Tim Wakefield (2004, '07) and the Celtics' Jo Jo White (1974, '76).

Andruzzi was hosting an event near the Marathon finish line when the bombs exploded. The brother of three New York City firefighters, he immediately went into first-responder mode, rushing to the site of the explosions and carrying at least one injured victim to safety and medical attention.


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