Disaster heroes honored at Texas Motor Speedway

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by JASON WHEELER

WFAA

Posted on June 9, 2013 at 7:12 PM

Updated Tuesday, Dec 10 at 8:17 PM

On Saturday night, drivers slowed down at Texas Motor Speedway long enough to honor survivors and heroes from the Oklahoma tornadoes and from the fertilizer explosion in West, Texas.

Captain C.J. Gillaspie, a volunteer firefighter from West, was given the honor of waving the green flag to start the Firestone 550 IZOD IndyCar Series race.

He couldn’t help but remember a fellow firefighter — a huge fan of fast cars — who died in the April explosion.

"Right now, I am here for him, waving that flag... and for all the victims of West who are fans... and there are a lot of victims who were fans in West," Gillaspie said.

Oklahoma schoolteachers Sam Canaday and Jennifer Simonds admit that they weren't big racing fans before Saturday night. But now that they’ve had the honor of acting as the co-grand marshals for a race, that may be changing.

"We got to meet Mario Andretti a little while ago, so that was cool," Candaday said.

The two women taught at Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, Oklahoma. The campus was devastated by the May 20 tornado.

Simonds recalled the afternoon of terror that left several students dead. Thankfully, all the kids in her class survived.

"I think it was just instinct that I grabbed the backpacks and lay on top of them, because I have lived the majority of my life," she recalled. "They are five and six, so they haven’t lived their lives. I just wanted to protect them; I didn’t care about anything else. I just wanted to protect them."

For those who lived through the events in West and Moore, there are still so many memories to process. But Saturday night was about creating new memories.

Fun ones.

And the fast track at Texas Motor Speedway was a nice change of pace, Canaday said.

"This is great, and everyone has been so wonderful," she said. "Just the invitation to come here and just get away for a day or two... I just can’t thank them enough. There’s a lot of love right now out there."

The Firestone 550 was broadcast live by ABC and WFAA Channel 8.

E-mail jwheeler@wfaa.com

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