Last year he watched the Daytona 500 from Afghanistan, but this year, 1st Sgt. Jason VanKleeck will have much better seats for the race.
VanKleeck, a Fort Riley soldier, was deployed to Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, when he read about a photo contest on Facebook sponsored by the Motor Racing Network and the Daytona International Speedway. It called for a photo of “The Greatest American Race Fan” in October. The prize: two tickets to the race, plus a brand-new Chevy Camaro. So VanKleeck took a picture of himself at his “usual viewing station” in Kandahar and submitted it.
“I said, ‘What the heck,’ and submitted,” he said.
After a panel of judges picked VanKleeck’s photo as one of the top 10, it was opened to the public for voting. Three weeks later, VanKleeck found out he won. But he admitted he had some help from his fellow soldiers and friends.
“I definitely went into campaign mode,” he said. “I posted on my Facebook multiple times.”
VanKleeck, with the 287th Military Police Company, said he has been a racing fan his entire life. When he was growing up in Indianapolis, his dad raced late models, and would take VanKleeck to the race track three or four times a week.
Since then, he has always been a fan, but never went to see the Daytona 500 in person.
“I’ve watched it on TV, but never had a reason to go down there,” he said. “This is a pretty good reason.”
Along with a pair of VIP tickets, VanKleeck won a 2013 Chevrolet Camaro 2SS convertible that he will drive once around the track ahead of the pace car, and a tour of the garage.
He also will be introduced to the crowd prior to the race on Feb. 24 in Daytona.
Amanda VanKleeck, his wife, said she thinks Jason will keep the Camaro and looks forward to going with him to Daytona. VanKleeck said he returned to Fort Riley in January, but after being stationed here since June 2007, his time at the fort is almost up. He said he will be moving to Fort Bliss, Texas, this summer since he was recently accepted into the sergeant major academy.