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NASCAR driver surprises military dad with the ride of his life

By Staff Sgt. Jason Thompson, Special to CNN
updated 12:58 PM EDT, Mon September 17, 2012
Staff Sgt. Jason Thompson perches on the window of Tony Stewart's No. 14 car at Texas Motor Speedway.
Staff Sgt. Jason Thompson perches on the window of Tony Stewart's No. 14 car at Texas Motor Speedway.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Staff Sgt. Jason Thompson was awarded a trip to Tony Stewart's racing camp
  • All the proceeds from the camp benefit the Speedway Children's Charities
  • Thompson has two boys with special needs and serves in the U.S. Army
  • Thompson: As a single parent, I understand the importance of a helping hand

Editor's note: Staff Sgt. Jason Thompson serves in the U.S. Army. He is the public affairs chief for the 4th Sustainment Brigade stationed in Fort Hood, Texas.

(CNN) -- The morning started off as just another day. The alarm clock announced the start of the day at 4 a.m., well before the sun would begin to peer over the eastern horizon. I had merely 75 minutes to get myself and two young boys ready and out the door for what would soon become a roller-coaster of a day.

I don't have what everyone would consider a normal job. I'm a soldier in the United States Army. Currently, I serve as the public affairs chief for the 4th Sustainment Brigade in Fort Hood, Texas. My job is one of the greatest in the armed forces, because I have a unique opportunity to focus my efforts in telling the stories of the many heroes and patriots who serve in our military ranks.

Staff Sgt. Jason Thompson
Age: 27
Hometown: Layton, Utah
Sons: Haden, 6; Jason Jr., 5
Stationed in Fort Hood, Texas
Deployments: Iraq, Kuwait
Enlisted in U.S. Army in 2003

The mechanics, truck drivers, personnel specialists, etc., are some of the unsung heroes in our formation, and it's my goal to highlight their achievements.

But on this day, after I dropped my boys off at day care and arrived at the first formation of the morning to salute the flag at Reveille, the tables were turned. I was called in front of all my peers, recognized for my hard work and awarded an opportunity to attend the Tony Stewart Smoke Show Fantasy Camp at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth the following day.

Watch Staff Sgt. Thompson take to the track

This was an incredible honor to be recognized by my leadership as they recommended me for this opportunity. I am humbled that they would think so highly of my performance at work; however, I feel it is more of a privilege to be in a position to meet so many other soldiers who have volunteered to serve our great nation.

However, for me, it's my job when I'm not in the office that is much more important: I'm a single parent to two very special boys. My oldest son, Haden, 6, has cerebral palsy as a result of a heart arrhythmia, stroke and seizures when he was just 3 months old. His brother, Jason Jr., 5, is about two years developmentally delayed and borderline autistic.

Having two children with special needs added to my appreciation for the experience at the Smoke Show, as all the proceeds benefited the Speedway Children's Charities. Seeing someone in the position of Tony Stewart, the defending NASCAR champion, donate his time to help raise money for less fortunate children was simply amazing.

This was the fifth time Stewart has hosted his Smoke Show at Texas Motor Speedway, and in only five years, he has raised more than $1 million for Speedway Children's Charities. Not only does it speak volumes to the character of Stewart as an individual, it goes to the generosity of people in the Dallas/Fort Worth area who donated that money for the charities.

As a single parent of two exceptional children, I understand the importance of a helping hand once in a while.

On the day of the Tony Stewart Smoke Show, I was able to drive a stock car around the track for a pair of 10-lap sessions as well as a three-lap heat session as a passenger with Stewart driving. I'm a long-time NASCAR fan, so it had always been a dream of mine to get a car up to full speed on the high banks.

The experience was certainly a once in a lifetime opportunity that I will always be grateful for and an opportunity that I hope will be afforded to other outstanding soldiers in the years to come. I am but one man serving as part of a much larger team of volunteer soldiers who have dedicated their life to serve the United States of America.

Some may look at my circumstances with being a single military father of two special needs children as a difficult and challenging hardship; those individuals couldn't be more incorrect.

I am truly blessed for everything that I have been given. I have an extraordinary opportunity to be a strong role model for the two most resilient and strong boys a father could ask for.

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