DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The NASCAR Cup Series drivers that compete in the Daytona 500 are considered true American heroes.
Clint Bowyer, driver of the No. 14 Ford at Stewart-Haas Racing, met an actual American Hero after Saturday’s final practice session before Sunday’s 62nd Daytona 500.
It was David Bellavia, a U.S. Army Staff Sergeant, who became the first living Medal of Honor winner from the Iraq War. He received his medal from President Donald J. Trump in a ceremony at the White House on June 25, 2019.
The Buffalo, N.Y., native told SPEED SPORT it was the only “participation medal” he would ever accept. He is also a big fan of Bowyer, who had a chance to stop and chat with Bellavia early Saturday afternoon in the Daytona Int’l Speedway garage area.
Bellavia received the Medal of Honor 15 years after battling with insurgents in Fallujah, Iraq.
It was Nov. 10, 2004, Bellavia’s 29th birthday.
According to Stars & Stripes, Bellavia and a small group of soliders were pinned down inside a pitch-black, insurgent-filled house in the early days of the second battle of Fallujah. Bellavia grabbed a heavy M249 automatic machine gun from another soldier and charged forward into oncoming fire from enemy fighters hunkered down in a stairwell.
The enemy fighters froze, ducking away from Bellavia’s fire just long enough for his squad to escape the building and regroup outside. Moments later, with his fellow soldiers outside, the infantryman from Buffalo, N.Y, burst back into the building — eventually killing four insurgents and gravely wounding another.
Also, according to Stars & Stripes, the former infantryman who left the Army in 2005 never cracked a smile during the White House ceremony, sharing only telling nods with more than a dozen of the men with whom he served. Along with his family, the men joined him on the East Room stage and a packed audience roared and applauded.
Bellavia is the first living American to receive the Medal of Honor for actions in the Iraq War. The honor is an upgrade of the Silver Star that Bellavia initially received for his actions that day. He is only the sixth servicemember to receive the nation’s highest military honor for actions in Iraq.
“It’s the weirdest thing,” Bellavia recalled. “I never in a million years thought I would be talking about this day for the rest of my life.”
Although Bellavia says the attention he has received for his act of heroism is “awkward,” he remembers the men who were lost in that battle.
By charging back into the house by himself with his M249, Bellavia was able to save some of his fellow infantrymen and become a true American hero.
“I realized I was outnumbered,” Bellavia told SPEED SPORT Saturday at Daytona. “But, hey, I’m from Buffalo.
“We don’t back down from a fight.”
On Sunday, Bellavia and his family will watch his racing heroes in the 62nd Daytona 500. But as the only living Medal of Honor winner from the Iraq War, Bellavia has a true understanding of heroism.