Johnson, New Hampshire track laud first responders

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Associated Press

Posted on June 27, 2013 at 7:03 PM

BOSTON (AP) — The New Hampshire Motor Speedway will honor and welcome first responders from the Boston Marathon bombings and the Newtown school shootings at the July 14 New Hampshire 301.

The announcement at a "Champions Event" luncheon Thursday at a Boston bar next to Fenway Park was made by the track's general manager, Jerry Gappens.

"We're going to honor first responders from throughout New England," Gappens said at the event, which featured NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson and retired stars from the four local pro sports teams. "If you think about the swift and capable response that they brought to us in Boston that day, and they answer the call every day, they really go the extra mile.

"And our race in July is 301. And the reason that it's not a 300 is because we talk about people going the extra mile, and there's no better illustration of that than what they do."

Gappens — who took a cue from Charlotte Motor Speedway, which honors military personnel — said the track has joined forces with corporate sponsors to share the expense of the reserved seating. And he also unveiled a T-shirt that will be sold, with proceeds going to the One Fund in Boston.

"So far, we're up to almost 2,000 tickets to hand out to first responders throughout our great region here," he said. "They'll be able to come out and enjoy the race and that program will run right up until race weekend where we can get as many of them in as we can."

Joining Johnson, who won the Sprint Cup from 2006-10 were local champions JoJo White (Celtics, 1974 and 1976), Tim Wakefield (Red Sox, 2004, 2007), Joe Andruzzi (Patriots, 2002, 2004 and 2005) and Johnny Bucyk (Bruins, 1970 and 1972 as a player, and 2011 as part of the staff).

Also on hand was MBTA transit police officer Richard Donahue, wounded in the apprehension of the suspects, and bombing victims Heather Abbott and JP Norden.

Former Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference, who just played his last game with Boston on Monday night, also made an appearance, as did Boston Athletic Association executive director Tom Grilk.

Jeff Bauman, who fought off his serious injuries to help identify the marathon suspects, was supposed to be a guest of honor but organizers said he had a tough morning of therapy and couldn't attend.

Donahue, on crutches, refused to take a microphone handed to him in the seating area, instead rising and making his way to the podium. He said he still has a bullet lodged in his leg.

"Recovery is slow but I'm learning to be patient," he said before the formal program began. "I'm not expecting to recover in the next week, or have a magic pill, but I'm going to physical therapy a couple of times a week and making strides, having small goals taken care of . and we're working towards the ultimate goal, which is hopefully a full recovery.

"And hopefully I can get back to work."

Andruzzi, whose three brothers were New York City firemen and his father a New York policeman during the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, turned into a first responder at the marathon, carrying a woman to safety.

The Boston tragedy hit closer to home for Johnson. Andrew Collier, the brother of MIT officer Sean Collier, is on his pit crew. That, and first responders — clearly so important in NASCAR, as well — were on Johnson's mind Thursday.

"I'm very proud of the race track for doing it," he said. "I know our sport will embrace it well and they'll have full support from every driver and team that's out there and the fans respond well.

"Our fans are recognized for their loyalty to a brand or to a driver and when it comes to charitable causes, and especially for something like this, our fan base is going to be behind it 100 percent."

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