NASCAR Driver Keith McGee is a ‘Beacon of Hope’ for Veterans

By Seth Eggert, Associate Editor

CONCORD, N.C. – Part-time NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series driver and U.S. Air Force veteran Keith McGee is embracing being an inspiration and a ‘beacon of hope’ for other veterans.

Nascar craftsman truck series driver keith mcgee has become a beacon of hope for veterans.
Photo by Blake Ulino/Kickin’ the Tires.

While several military veterans have competed in NASCAR competition including NASCAR Hall of Famer Red Byron and future inductee Ralph Moody, McGee is the only current disabled veteran competing. Byron’s left leg was seriously injured in combat and would, under modern definitions, be a disabled veteran.

Fast forward to today, and McGee competes after suffering a traumatic brain injury (TBI) in 2005. Although he remained in the military until 2009, having been sworn in on September 11, 2001, it took about two years for him to return to a sense of normalcy following the TBI. Though, he focuses on what happened after the injury, and not the injury itself. First, he worked for the Department of Defense in his native Alaska before he started racing.

“I suffered a TBI in 2005 on active duty, stayed in (the Air Force), got out in 2009,” McGee explained. “I left for basic training on September 11th, 2001. I was [sworn in] and then watched the towers fall. So, it was not what I had expected when I enlisted but spent the whole time at war.

“Got out in 2009, went to work for the Department of Defense (DoD) in Alaska, managing long range radar sites. DoD uses them with NORAD to track adversaries.”

When McGee did his own research into veterans competing in NASCAR, he didn’t find any. Although he didn’t find other military veterans that had competed in NASCAR, the 43-year-old fell in love with competing in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West (now known as the ARCA Menards Series West).

Racing gave McGee a new perspective. Over the years he’s learned how to position himself to protect his head in crashes. The driver known for carrying the American flag throughout pre-race activities every time he races keeps his seat, belts, and neck restraints tight to limit has much head movement as possible, limiting the possibility of concussions and other injuries.

“I focus on what happened after the TBI and having to it took me two years to kind of get back to what I considered normal,” McGee admitted. “After that, I had this new lease on life. I had a new perspective and so I just went headlong into it and then when I was racing in the K&N series, I realized that there wasn’t a lot of veterans racing, right? I didn’t see it, but I saw them in the in the stands, at the autograph sessions, and I did my research, and I couldn’t find any veterans that had raced in NASCAR.”

Although he was researching to find other veterans that were competing in NASCAR, McGee wasn’t ready to talk about his own experiences. The Eagle River, AK native didn’t want others to take pity on him or to view him differently because of the sacrifices that he had made.

However, when McGee did start talking about it, he found a bigger community of veterans that also were not talking about their experiences. Over time, the racing driver became a beacon of hope for others, using it as therapy for himself and others to open up about various issues that they deal with on a day-to-day basis.

“I never wanted to talk about it at that point just because I wasn’t really ready to,” McGee stated. “I didn’t want anybody ever take pity on me or feel that I was different. So, I just didn’t talk about it. Then once I finally started talking about it, I realized how many people don’t talk about it and it kind of eats them up.

“I was kind of this beacon for hope for a lot of individuals and it was really good therapy for me to talk about it in an open space and deal with my issues that I deal with, on social media and just be open about everything and it’s been a real blessing for me and now here I am, racing trucks on Memorial Day weekend.” 

The North Carolina Education Lottery 200 marked the fourth time that McGee was racing on Memorial Day weekend. The Reaume Brothers Racing driver was running inside the top-30 before he was swept up in an accident about halfway into the race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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