DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Michael Waltrip will carry a special Sandy Hook School Support Fund paint scheme in the Feb. 24 Daytona 500.
The tribute is part of a joint effort of the two-time Daytona 500 champion, Swan Racing, which will supply Waltrip the No. 26 car, and NASCAR to raise awareness and contributions for the fund.
Being in Newtown last week and delivering a moment of happiness to that community was unlike anything I've ever experienced.” -- Brian France, NASCAR chairman
The No. 26 has special significance in that it represents the 20 children and six adults who were killed by a lone gunman on Dec. 14 in Newtown, Conn.
NASCAR chairman Brian France and his wife, Amy, already have donated $50,000 to show industry support. That amount will be matched by The NASCAR Foundation.
France, Waltrip and other NASCAR officials introduced the paint scheme to the public during Thursday's media day at Daytona International Speedway. It was introduced to the children and families of Sandy Hook in Newtown at a private event last week.
The Newtown event "to me personally, it was one of the hardest things and best things I've ever done," France said. "Being in Newtown last week and delivering a moment of happiness to that community was unlike anything I've ever experienced. Looking out at a room of smiling faces amidst the aftermath of a horrible tragedy was very powerful.
"It hit me that the NASCAR industry and our passionate fan base have an unbelievable opportunity to rally around this cause and make a huge difference for a community in need. I am excited to witness firsthand the NASCAR community's embrace and support of the Sandy Hook School Support Fund."
The idea was born from a conversation NASCAR president Mike Helton had with Daytona Beach businessman Hans Reelick, who is from the Newtown area and still owns a business there with his son, Eugene.
"I met Mike for another matter," Reelick said. "I asked him if there was a chance we could get the father who lost a daughter [in the shooting] and his son maybe a half-an-hour tour and show them the [Daytona 500] facilities.
"Two days later, I got a call from Mike, who said, 'Hey, we're going to paint a car for this.'"
Waltrip, the owner of Michael Waltrip Racing, is driving in the 500 for Swan Racing to help get that new team, for which David Stremme will be the full-time driver, off to a good start.
Waltrip said all three of his MWR cars also will feature a call-to-action decal encouraging fans to make a $10 donation by texting "Newtown" to 80888. Money raised will go to support the healing process for the Newtown community.
Donations also can be made online at newtown.uwwesternct.org.
"It will be an emotional week knowing that we have the potential to do so much good for the Newtown community," Waltrip said. "I'm racing for a reason."