Purple Heart Recipient Surprised With a 'Ride of a Lifetime' at Kentucky Speedway

Eckrich®, Richard Petty Motorsports® and Operation Homefront® Give Back to Wounded Warrior

United States Marine and Family Featured in NBC Half Hour Special with Al Roker

Jun 29, 2013, 11:50 ET from Eckrich

LISLE, Ill., June 29, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- Richard Petty Motorsports and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Aric Almirola logged some extra time on the track this weekend at the Kentucky Speedway. With sponsor Eckrich, part of the John Morrell Food Group, a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods, and Operation Homefront, they surprised a special member of the U.S. military and his family with a 'Ride of a Lifetime'.

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United States Marine Corps Corporal Sebastian Gallegos, a 23-year-old Purple Heart recipient, and his wife Tracie, are VIP guests of the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports team, Eckrich and Operation Homefront this weekend. Saturday morning, the Gallegos received a 'Ride of a Lifetime' around the 1.5-mile track with Almirola in an Eckrich-branded Richard Petty Driving Experience Ford Fusion. In addition to the morning event, the Gallegos will get a behind-the-scenes tour of the garage and track and all-access with the No. 43 team prior to settling in atop the pit box for the night's race.

This isn't the first time, though, that the Gallegos family has been surprised by Almirola.  

As part of "Operation Inspiration", a campaign initiated by Eckrich and Operation Homefront earlier this year, Almirola, NASCAR Hall of Famer "The King" Richard Petty and television personality Al Roker made a trip to San Antonio in April to surprise Sebastian and Tracie. The Marine, who lost his right arm while serving in Afghanistan, and his wife, a nursing student, are living rent-free in the Operation Homefront Village while he receives necessary medical and rehabilitation treatment. With their car in need of major repairs, the group presented the family with a new 2013 Ford Fusion, which will be specially modified to accommodate driving with a prosthetic.

The couple's story and the surprise in San Antonio will be featured in the half hour NBC special hosted by Roker, which airs on local NBC stations across the country tonight, June 29, and in syndication throughout the summer. The special, sponsored by Eckrich, is aimed to honor, thank and support the military families who inspire us.

"This is so awesome," said Sebastian. "When Aric, The King, and Al Roker presented us with our new car, we were blown away. Now, to have this opportunity, we don't know what to say.  We are really thankful for the race team, Eckrich and Operation Homefront for this experience."

"We are so excited to see Sebastian and his wife Tracie again," said Almirola. "All that Eckrich and Operation Homefront do to help support and assist our military families is amazing. I am honored to be able to be a small part of what they do. Families like the Gallegos are an inspiration to us all."

Eckrich is providing additional assistance to military families by donating up to $250,000 to Operation Homefront this year through the donation of five cents from the purchase of specially-marked packages through July 4.

"We are very excited about the debut of the 'Operation Inspiration' television special tonight," said Chuck Gitkin, vice president, marketing, innovation and R&D for the John Morrell Food Group. "It has been our privilege to get to know the military families we are profiling in the show, like Sebastian and Tracie. Being able to provide this experience is just a small way to thank them for all they have done."

Almirola and the No. 43 Eckrich Ford will race under the lights at Kentucky Speedway Saturday night. Television coverage will begin at 7:30 p.m. ET on TNT.

For local listings, more information and a preview of the NBC special, please click here.

About Eckrich 

Founded by Peter Eckrich in 1894, Eckrich has a rich heritage starting from a small meat market in Fort Wayne, Ind. Through it all, Eckrich meats have been recognized for their great taste and supreme quality, craftsmanship, care and pride. For more information, visit www.eckrich.com or www.facebook.com/EckrichMeats

About John Morrell Food Group 

With over a century and a half of experience, John Morrell Food Group brands have become respected and well known for providing premium-quality meat products to families across the United States. With products ranging from lunchmeat and franks to smoked sausage, bacon and pepperoni, the John Morrell Food Group is an important part of consumers' mealtimes. The John Morrell Food Group offers several national and regional brands including Armour®, Eckrich®, John Morrell®, Curly's®, Patrick Cudahy®, Carando®, Healthy Ones®, Margherita® Kretschmar® and LunchMakers®.

About Smithfield Foods

Smithfield Foods is a $13 billion global food company and the world's largest pork processor and hog producer. In the United States, the company is also the leader in numerous packaged meats categories with popular brands including Smithfield®, Eckrich®, Farmland®, Armour®, Cook's®, Gwaltney®, John Morrell®, Kretschmar®, Curly's®, Carando®, Margherita®, and Healthy Ones®. Smithfield Foods is committed to providing good food in a responsible way and maintains robust animal care, community involvement, employee safety, environmental, and food safety and quality programs. For more information, visit www.smithfieldfoods.com and www.smithfieldcommitments.com.

About Operation Homefront

A national nonprofit, Operation Homefront leads more than 6,500 volunteers, with nationwide presence, and has met more than 741,000 needs of military families since 2002. A four-star rated charity by watchdog Charity Navigator, nationally, 94 percent of total revenue donated to Operation Homefront goes directly to assist service members. More information is available at www.operationhomefront.net.

About Richard Petty Motorsports

A performance and marketing driven company, Richard Petty Motorsports, co-owned by NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty and successful business entrepreneurs Andrew Murstein and Douglas Bergeron, is one of the most recognized brands in all of motorsports. With a history of over 200 wins and business partnerships with national and global leaders, today the race operation fields two teams in competition in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Aric Almirola pilots the famous No. 43 Ford Fusion with primary partners Smithfield Foods, U.S. Air Force and STP and Marcos Ambrose drives the No. 9 machine with primary partners Stanley and DEWALT. In addition, Michael Annett wheels the No. 43 Pilot Flying J Ford Mustang full-time in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. The team is headquartered in Concord, N.C.

SOURCE Eckrich