By Brian Citino
For years, Dover International Speedway has had a special relationship with the Fire Service, and the men and women who protect us on a daily basis.
Kyle Benjamin won the Dover 125 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East race on Friday, Sept. 30 at Dover International Speedway. Benjamin was racing with the Wilmington Fire Department logo in the hood of his No. 40 Chevrolet. PHOTO BY GETTY IMAGES
From the drivers on the track, to the crews in the pits, to the fans in the stands, many members of the Fire Service are on hand each race weekend to keep everyone secure, and to serve as a safeguard in the event of a dangerous incident.
Just one week ago, two veteran firefighters – and heroes – lost their lives while responding to a house fire in nearby Wilmington, Del., just 50 minutes north of the track.
Lt. Christopher Leach, 41, and Senior Firefighter Jerry Fickes, 51, lost their lives, while Ardythe Hope and Brad Speakman remain in critical condition at Crozier-Chester Medical Center in Chester, Pa.
The local and national community of firefighters has been mourning this tragic loss, but on Friday at the Monster Mile, many were treated to what was described as a “healing moment.”
Kyle Benjamin, driver of the No. 40 Chevrolet, proudly sported the Wilmington Fire Department crest on the hood of his car, and had all firefighters and quite a few fans on his side as he drove to his first career win at Dover International Speedway.
Benjamin said it was an honor to carry the WFD crest on the hood of his car, and also felt like Lt. Leach and Sr. Firefighter Fickes were on his side in the race.
“I felt like it brought us a little luck today, having it on the hood,” he said.
Following the victory, dozens of the at-track Fire Service members swarmed to Victory Lane, not just to celebrate the win, but also to celebrate their fallen brothers.
“They were telling me that [firefighters] are like brothers, and it’s hard losing somebody that close to you,” Benjamin said. “It’s tragic what happened so it was really neat to get to have them in Victory Lane.”
Keith Stockman of the Goodwill Fire Co. in New Castle, Del., was one of the Fire Service members on hand in Victory Lane, and said the moment was a bright one in a week that’s been filled with sorrow.
“My dad is retired from [Wilmington Fire Department] and I knew both firefighters that passed away,” Stockman said. “And for the driver to put this on his car and then go ahead and win, it means so much to the Fire Service.”
Sadly, members of the WFD were not able to be on hand for the victory, as they are attending memorial services for their fallen brothers this weekend. However, Stockman said he made sure his fellow firefighters up north knew who to pull for today.
“I sent pictures back to everyone that was at the funeral, and they all told me to wish him good luck,” he said. “Then for him to come out and win, it’s not a burden off of our shoulders, but it’s part of the healing and helps out. It’s a big deal for us right now.”
Dover International Speedway will also honor the firefighters with a moment of silence before the start of the Sunday, Oct. 2 “Citizen Soldier 400” NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.