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NASCAR driver to honor fallen airman

Coca-Cola 600 Memorial Day Weekend Tribute

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It has been more than 15 years since U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Scott Sather died in combat in Iraq.

But on Sunday, May 27, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver Jamie McMurray will carry Sather's name on his windshield around the track as part of a Memorial Day weekend tribute during the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The 29-year-old Clio native died April 8, 2003, while on a tour of duty as a Special Tactics Team Member with the 24th Special Tactics Squadron out of Pope Air Force Base, North Carolina, as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"We do feel it's quite an honor for him," said Karin Craft, Sather's mother. "He always liked NASCAR. He went as often as he could."

The special tribute will commemorate the launch of NASCAR Salutes, the industry's collective expression of respect and gratitude for members of the U.S. Armed Forces, past and present, according to a news release.

Jeff Dowling, media relations representative at Chip Ganassi Racing, for which McMurray races, said employees of the racing team have maintained relationships with the families of fallen soldiers honored on their vehicles.

"It's something meaningful to our team members," he said. "I think this is the first time that we've done it that we've had an Air Force member that was killed in action."

This particular tribute hits close to home for Dowling, a U.S. Air Force veteran.

"To be able to meet a family member and kind of watch them collect their thoughts when they see that (name) on the car for the first time ... It's a nice moment you get to spend with them," he said, adding Memorial Day is about thanking those who've served over the years.

A 1991 Clio High School graduate, Sather traveled to several different race tracks across the country given his travel with the military, Craft said, and rooted for NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee Jeff Gordon.

When Sather died, Craft noted Gordon carried the coin given to servicemembers with their name emblazoned on it in a special pocket crafted on the dashboard inside his No. 24 car in honor of her late son.

Craft said Sather didn't plan on going into the military out of high school, but he joined the armed services with a friend in May 1992.

He completed his basic training at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, ahead of serving as a Combat Controller and Special Tactics Team Member with the 321st Special Tactics Squadron at Royal Air Force Base in Alconbury, England, from December 1993 to December 1996, followed by service as a Combat Control Team Operator and Special Tactics Team Member with the 22nd Special Tactics Squadron at McChord Air Force Base in Tacoma, Washington, from December 1996 to December 1998.

"He was a very good combat controller," said Craft of her son. "For a staff sergeant, he made it as high as he could go for that. He was among the best of the best."

Kathy Harris, Sather's aunt, pointed out her nephew had "a big heart for everybody."

"He would do anything for anyone. He was very dedicated to his job and to his family," she noted. "He was just full of life. If you knew him, if you met him, you loved him. He was just that kind of person."

Sather earned numerous awards and commendations over the course of his military service, including a Bronze Star and Purple Heart.

The Coca-Cola 600 is scheduled to air beginning at 6 p.m., May 27, on FOX.

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