Jimmie Johnson donates $1.5 million to the American Legion after a fireside chat with him, Chip Ganassi and Tony Kanaan

Both eligible for membership through family members who have served, INDYCAR team owner Chip Ganassi and driver Jimmie Johnson were officially inducted into Sons of The American Legion on stage at The American Legion national convention in Milwaukee on August 31. .

After being welcomed into the organization by SAL National Commander Michael Fox, Johnson took the podium and shared some news that delighted convention delegates.

“Being able to work with the Legion for the last two years, meeting everyone on the race track, what an honor it has been, the meaning that has been behind it, my wife Chandra and I feel very compelled to move to have a increased participation in the Legion. Johnson said. “Today I am here to proudly announce that we want to donate $1.5 million to The American Legion.”

Johnson, who drove the No. 48 Carvana-American Legion Honda throughout the INDYCAR season, including a fifth-place finish in the Hy-Vee Salute to Farmers 300 in July, was joined by Ganassi and Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Tony Kanaan, for a fireside chat. Talk moderated by former California Department Commander Autrey James. The trio discussed the INDYCAR season, the Legion’s “Be the One” suicide prevention initiative and what it’s like to represent the nation’s largest veterans organization at tracks across North America.

When it came to being a part of “Be the One,” Ganassi said he was special because of his father’s service. “My father was in World War II and he drove a tank, I think, in the 4th Infantry,” he said. “My father never told me about the war. One day I asked him about it very late in his life. I asked him, ‘Dad, why didn’t you ever tell me about that?’ And with a different look on his face than he’d ever seen before, he just said to me, ‘I don’t want to talk about it.’ And I remember thinking to myself… he had something with him. It was inside him, but he didn’t want to let it out or talk about it. Obviously, when I found out about the ‘Be the One’ campaign, I was completely into it. That is why I am here today.”

For Kanaan, who drove the No. 1 American Legion “Be the One” car to third place in the Indy 500 last May, representing the suicide prevention initiative “adds special meaning to what we already do.” . Chip has an organization that has been winning for a long time. Our biggest race is the Indy 500 on Memorial Day weekend. The Legion came on board with the ‘Be the One’ campaign. For me, it was something extra: an extra motivation to get back racing, especially when you know you’re doing a good thing, trying to save the lives of veterans who have been protecting us in the past. I cannot thank the Legion and all the veterans enough for supporting our team and allowing us to represent them on the race track.”

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Johnson didn’t know veteran suicides were so high. “I was shocked to hear the number (of veteran suicides) when this program first came out, to learn and understand how many veterans took their own lives every day. An amazing number, a number that must change. I am honored to have been able to be a part of this, this team has been able to be a part of making a change. It is an honor to represent the Legion, it is an honor to be a part of something so significant, and we are doing our best every day to represent the Legion and help advance this cause. It excites me to know that we are making progress. The word is getting out. It’s exciting to know that Chip Ganassi Racing has that kind of reach and can help the American Legion.”

Chip Ganassi Racing (CGR) currently has three drivers in the top five in the INDYCAR Series points standings. “What an enviable position to be in,” Ganassi said. “If I’m going to have this sponsorship from the American Legion, I have to keep that No. 1 (place). The way to do it is to win the championship. We have three opportunities and we are very excited.”

When asked why he chooses to hire veterans to be part of the CGR, the owner said it was simple. “I like what they represent. They represent what is good about our country,” he said. “They understand values ​​that we don’t talk about today: hard work, wanting to do better, wanting to win, wanting to be the best. Don’t be afraid to put in a little effort when you need it. To me, the veterans that we have, we don’t have to explain too much. they get it. They get what it takes. You don’t have to talk a lot about, ‘Hey, this is a team.’ It’s not about individuals.’”

Ganassi was also asked about the hardest part of owning a racing team. Laughing, he replied, “The hardest thing about owning a race team is when you see all this work on a car, and all this time and effort and money, and then it crashes. That’s the hardest thing for a team owner to watch.”

Johnson, who has shown marked improvement this season, was asked what he hopes to accomplish during the final two races of the season. “For the next two races I feel like being able to qualify a little higher up the grid will put me in a better position when it comes time for the race,” he said. “I am still adapting to these cars and learning the tracks. My qualifying performance was the weak point of the weekend for me. I always race much better than I qualify so I can work my way up the grid. I think top 15, top 10 (last two races of the season) is realistic for me.”

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During the chat, Kanaan announced that he will compete in the Ironman World Championships in October in Hawaii. Participants start with a 2.4-mile swim, follow up with a 112-mile bike ride, and then finish with a 26.2-mile marathon.

While competing, Kanaan will wear the American Legion branding and “Be the One”. “I’m doing that to try to inspire some people as well because I think doing this mental health issue, you know, keeping your body healthy helps a lot,” he said. “Have some goal to try to follow. I’m doing it for the veterans. It is a great challenge”.

When asked what his most memorable interaction with a veteran or legionnaire was since the Legion and CGR partnered, Kanaan told the story of receiving a letter before last year’s Indy 500 from the mother of a service member. who died in combat. Included with the letter was the soldier’s coin.

“We had his name on our car, actually. It was very, very emotional for me, and it was something that brought me a lot of meaning,” Kanaan said. “It gave me an extra purpose. And I remember talking to his mom after the race and we finished in the top 10 and how moved she was. I actually kept the coin from him and it’s in my house right next to my trophy (Indy 500). That is definitely something that moved me quite a bit.”

For Ganassi, it’s been all the different interactions he’s had with members of the American Legion family at various races this season.

“When each and every one of you who has been to the races comes forward and introduces themselves, I want everyone who hasn’t been to the races to understand the people who are there, how well they represent you,” he said. “I encourage each and every one of you to be there, because you are some of the friendliest and most down to earth people I have ever met. And you’re in this room right now, and I want to thank each and every one of you for being there for the team.”

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