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NASCAR, victorious Truex honor Nick Null at Coca-Cola 600

Photo by Gary Eller/HHP Martin Truex Jr. drives the 19 Toyota to victory, with CPO Null’s name on the windshield, at the Coca-Cola 600 race at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 26.

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CHARLOTTE — Martin Truex Jr. wasn’t the only name to cross the finish line first at NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 26.

Nick Null’s name (CPO Null) was on the windshield of the No. 19 Toyota that Truex was driving for Joe Gibbs Racing when he won the Coca-Cola 600 over Memorial Day weekend.

EOD Chief Petty Officer Nicholas Heath “Nick” Null, a graduate of Parkersburg South High School, was killed in action on Aug. 6, 2011, during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Null was an explosive ordnance disposal technician with Naval Special Warfare Development Group.

Null, 30, and 37 other military personnel, along with Bart the service dog, were killed when their helicopter was shot down by Taliban soldiers with a rocket-propelled grenade.

Photo by Tim Parks/HHP Standing with a photograph of EOD Chief Petty Officer Nicholas Heath Null before the Coca-Cola 600 race at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 26 are, from left, Null’s stepfather Alan Litman, mother Tracy Litman, sister Ashley Sanders and brother-in-law Adam “Butch” Sanders.

“It was an honor for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) to host Nick’s family at the track over Memorial Day weekend, and to cap it off with a win was truly special for all involved,” Donald Edwards, an account manager at Joe Gibbs Racing, said in an email.

Null’s family met Martin Truex Jr. before the race, took photos at the car and sat on the pit box during the Coca-Cola 600, Edwards said. After Truex won the race, the family joined the Joe Gibbs Racing team in victory lane to cap off the night, he said.

Every race car had the name of a fallen service member on it that weekend. It was part of the NASCAR Salutes program, Edwards said.

Truex provided the following statement regarding having Null’s name on his car.

“(Chief Petty Officer) Nicholas Null, the armed service member that lost his life, he’s on our car. Really special. I got to meet some of his family today and they were just so honored that the teams and NASCAR did this. Just what a special day. What a special weekend. That’s really what it’s all about. This victory is just a little bit extra special.”

Photo by Harold Henson/HHP Celebrating with Martin Truex Jr. after his win at the Coca-Cola 600 race at Charlotte Motor Speedway are Alan and Tracy Litman, at left, and Ashley and Adam “Butch” Sanders. It was the third win of the season for Truex.

Truex noted that the Coca-Cola 600 is the longest race of the year and is filled with history. “What this weekend means for all the soldiers and all those that have given the ultimate sacrifice so we can even be here.”

In the email, Truex said Null’s family told him he would win the Coca-Cola 600.

“Kudos to NASCAR and all the teams for putting it all together,” Truex said.

Family members said it was special to have Nick honored at the May 26 race. The family received “red carpet treatment” at the Coca-Cola 600, said Alan Litman, Nick’s stepfather. Litman described Truex as being a nice guy, down to earth.

Greg Rice, Parkersburg South High School graduate who now works for Joe Gibbs Racing, was instrumental in getting Nick Null honored at the Coca-Cola 600.

Photo by Paul LaPann A memorial to EOD Chief Petty Officer Nicholas Heath Null and other fallen service members at Parkersburg City Park.

Rice, of North Carolina, and Alan Litman, who lives in Ohio, became friends through their shared interest in the Ohio Valley’s dirt track stock car racing scene in the mid-1990s. They have stayed in contact over the years.

Rice and his wife moved to Concord, N.C., in 1996, so he could pursue a career in NASCAR.

Rice has worked at Joe Gibbs Racing for just over 16 years, currently working as a mechanic in the suspension department. He specializes in the maintenance and assembly of rear suspension components for all four of the JGR team’s cars that compete in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series: 11, Denny Hamlin; 18, Kyle Busch; 19, Martin Truex Jr., and 20, Eric Jones.

Rice and Litman discussed how special it would be if Nick Null’s name was on one of the Gibbs’ team’s cars at the Coca-Cola 600, Rice said. Rice had seen the “600 Miles of Remembrance” to honor the military at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

At the Charlotte race, each team honors a fallen service member on their car and the respective Gold Star family representatives are invited to attend the race and be honorary members of the team in which their loved one is featured, Rice said.

Rice said he wasn’t sure how or if he could get Null’s name on a race car. He tried in 2017 and 2018, but the JGR cars already had service members names on them.

But the public relations and marketing staff at JGR told Rice earlier this year that Null’s name could possibly be placed on Truex Jr.’s No. 19 car in 2019, Rice said.

“With the blessing of Nick’s family, and (primary sponsor) Bass Pro Shops founder and CEO, Johnny Morris, this project finally took flight,” Rice said in an email.

Rice said the Charlotte race was a true testament to the old saying “never give up.”

“After showing we had a dominant car during the first portion of the race, a cut RF tire would send Truex into the wall and down pit road for repairs. With the entire right side battered, Truex and team began a race long charge back to the front and with a late race caution, Martin had to battle defending series champion, Joey Logano, and another JGR car, defending race winner, Kyle Busch, for the win,” Rice said.

A four-wide pass on the inside in the closing laps secured Truex’s trip to victory lane, Rice said.

This victory ranks up there with the best of Rice’s racing experiences, he said.

“I knew all along that this tribute was something special but winning the race in that manner took it to another level! From the 2015 Cup championship to the Daytona 500 victories, this race was one of the few that brought tears to my eyes because of what it meant to Nick’s family and those watching from back home,” Rice said.

“It was truly an honor to be a part of such an amazing event,” Rice added.

“To make it down to victory lane and see Alan and Nick’s mother and sister already there amongst the driver and team as they spray champagne and celebrate … man what an emotional sight to see!” Rice said.

As a JGR mechanic, Rice said the 2019 Coca-Cola 600 will always hold a special meaning “for those of us who call Parkersburg home.”

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