DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – JJ Yeley will have a unique helmet for this weekend’s Daytona Speedweeks festivities, and he will do so for a very special cause.
Yeley will wear a navy-and-yellow painted helmet carrying the logo of Veterans Community Project, a Kansas City, Mo.-based non-profit organization which helps combat veterans re-acclimate to civilian life.
The longtime NASCAR Cup Series and NASCAR Xfinity Series competitor will spotlight Veterans Community Project in both his attempt to race into the 62nd annual Daytona 500 on Thursday night, during the Bluegreen Vacation Duels, as well as Saturday’s NASCAR Racing Experience 300.
Yeley will drive the No. 54 Ford Mustang for Rick Ware Racing on Thursday night, before jumping behind the wheel of the No. 52 Chevrolet for Jimmy Means Racing in the Xfinity Series undercard on Saturday.
The special helmet Yeley will wear was created by Sean Cain of Blackbeard Designs and is additionally backed by Rick Young of RAMS Racing, a dirt midget team which works hand in hand with Rockwell Security, one of Yeley’s longtime supporters.
“This is something that’s a really special initiative and something I’m really excited to be a part of,” Yeley said of working with Veterans Community Project. “We’re going to try to do everything we can through the season to bring awareness, help raise funds … whatever we can possibly do, we want to help those guys as much as we’re able to.
“I thought it was a no-brainer to have a helmet done for them. It looks great and hopefully we can get it in the show, and then certainly hope to do them proud on Saturday as well (in the Xfinity race).”
Veterans Community Project features a village of “tiny houses,” located at the corner of 89th Street and Troost Avenue in Kansas City, Mo., and consists of 49 homes of 240-320 square feet.
Beyond just providing a place to live for the homeless veterans in the program, VCP officials also offer walk-in support services for veterans in need, as well as aid in finding employment and long-term housing solutions for their future as well.
VCP co-founder and Afghanistan veteran Brandonn Mixon has been an advocate of the VCP brand’s presence within the racing world and is eager to see Yeley take to the Daytona high banks this weekend.
“The program we’ve put together with Rick Young has been very impactful for us so far, and the things they’ve been able to provide for us have been amazing,” Mixon told SPEED SPORT. “We’re excited to make our first foray into NASCAR, and it’s something we’re really excited about.”
“It’s a really big opportunity for us to break into the NASCAR world,” Mixon added. “I was stationed in North Carolina, and that’s where, I would say, our roots in racing really started happening. I loved it and went to a couple of races down there … and that’s kind of where my love for racing began. I got into dirt track (racing) after that, and in order to start VCP, I actually sold my dirt track car and everything that I had racing wise to help fund and start VCP. Racing was kind of my local sport, and when JJ (Yeley) said he’d love to do something for us, I figured it would be a great way to go ahead and start pushing out VCP as much as we can in the NASCAR world.
“A lot of military is very pro-NASCAR, with the history and everything about it … and I feel like nobody’s really been able to kind of break that mold, so this, to me, is kind of breaking the mold and getting our foot in the door as a unique and different non-profit.”
VCP’s NASCAR excursion this weekend is just one small part of a bigger outreach for the organization, which is working to add even more locales and ways of helping combat veterans in need.
A national expansion of VCP is in the works, starting with a second small-house community of 25 homes in Longmont, Colo., and featuring a long-term vision of eight total VCP communities over the next two years.
But that vision started with a veteran in Mixon who fought through the same struggles that he and others are now trying to help their combat brethren overcome and avoid as much as possible.
“I came home at 23 years old, essentially,” Mixon recalled. “I got medically retired when I was 21 years old. And then finally I was able to come home at 23 years old. I thought my mission was over at that point. I battled with suicide, I battled with depression. I didn’t know what to do next. There was no transition for me. But coming home and working with different non-profits, I was seeing a lot of my brothers and sisters struggling. And I asked myself, why are they struggling? They qualify for benefits, right? But I came to find out a lot of veterans don’t qualify for benefits.
“Reservists, (the) National Guard, (those who were) dishonorably discharged, they even get turned away at the VA (Hospitals). That absolutely broke my heart and blew my mind,” Mixon added. “There was a group of five of us that came together and we said that we were tired of seeing a lot of our own battling on the streets and literally committing suicide and dying because they’re just left alone with no one at their back.
“Our mission at Veterans Community Project is to do everything we can to have these guys’ backs, and if getting the word out in racing helps us to be able to support more of them, that’s something we want to do.”
For more information on Veterans Community Project, visit www.veteranscommunityproject.org.