Not just another race name

HAMPTON, Ga. – The first official race day for the folks from Folds of Honor was eye-opening.

The organization’s web site crashed due to the tremendous amount of traffic generated by the affiliation with convenience store group QuikTrip and sponsorship of the NASCAR premier series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

That was in 2015. Thankfully, such technical issues are no longer a problem.

The Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500, now in its fourth season, is scheduled for Sunday, Feb. 25 at AMS.

It is not your typical race sponsorship. It is one of the most impressive sponsorships in NASCAR. And racing. And maybe sports in general. It is much more than just a name on a race weekend.

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“Ten years ago, I ended up on a commercial airline flight with Cpl. Brock Bucklin who was killed in Iraq and his twin brother, Cpl. Brad Bucklin who was bringing him home,” said Maj. Dan Rooney, a fighter pilot and founder of Folds of Honor.

“That night, despite the (pilot’s) request, half the people got off the plane and left. I watched Brock’s four-year-old son watch his father’s American flag-draped coffin as it inched down the ramp.

“God told me I needed to do something.”

What Rooney did was go home and start Folds of Honor, a non-profit organization that provides scholarships to the spouses and children who have had a family member in the military killed or disabled.

The organization began in a room over Rooney’s garage. This year, they will award their 20,000th scholarship.

The growth “has been exponential,” Rooney said. “When we showed up here we were giving $3 million a year in scholarships; last year we gave $16 million. It’s been amazing.”

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Corporate headquarters for Folds of Honor and QuikTrip are both located in Tulsa, Okla. Rooney said he walked into QuikTrip’s offices “and they believed in us early on.

“Their core values align with our core values,” he said, “and those align with the core values of NASCAR and its fan base. Flag-waving, hard-working, beer drinking fans. They get it and appreciate the fact that freedom isn’t free. … That’s what brought QuikTrip and Folds of Honor together and then to bring it full circle, to have a NASCAR race (named after both).”

Folds of Honor is one of QuikTrip’s primary charitable causes. There are 131 QT stores in the Atlanta area so sponsorship of the race at AMS makes sense.

“They wanted an anchor event to reach all these folks,” Rooney said.

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Kobalt Tools, Cracker Barrel, Advocare, NAPA. AMS has had a long list of race sponsors through the years. Ed Clark, the track’s general manager, said talks with QuikTrip came about through a relationship with Atlanta-based Coca-Cola.

And the focus began to turn toward Folds of Honor, he said, early in the conversations.

“Chuck O’Dell, who is vice president of sales at QuikTrip, is on Folds board,” said Clark. “Both being in Tulsa they’ve been a big supporter. As we noodled around how this thing could work, the whole concept kind of came to life of them doing the event and giving a lot of the assets to Folds of Honor.”

Early on, the aim was to raise awareness for Folds of Honor. Today, it’s more about generating funds to fulfill scholarship requests.

“I think it speaks volumes for the quality of company, the approach that QuikTrip takes,” Clark said. “They are first-class in everything they do. For them to take this asset and roll it over to Folds and support them, when they could selfishly just make it all about QuikTrip selling more gas and getting more people in the stores says so much about them.”

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Jacob Bucklin was the four-year-old watching his father’s coffin come off the plane. He was the first Folds of Honor scholarship recipient. He’s 15 and lives outside of Grand Rapids, Mich.

“I started this … trying to help that one little guy and 20,000 scholarships later I think we’re on the right path,” Rooney said. “I know we’re on the right path.

“Little did I know where we were going to go.”

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