Heroes from Okla., Tex. tragedies to serve honorary roles for IndyCar race at Texas


Three individuals who risked their lives to help others during the recent major tragedies at Moore, Oklahoma (pictured) and West, Texas will serve in honorary roles for tonight’s IZOD IndyCar Series race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Oklahoma school teachers Jennifer Simonds and Anna “Sam” Canaday will be honored as Co-Grand Marshals of the Firestone 550 (8:30 pm ET, check local listings) and will give the command to start engines, while C.J. Gillespie, captain of the West (Tex.) Volunteer Fire Department, will be the honorary starter and wave the green flag to begin the race.

Simonds and Canaday both teach at Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, which was completely destroyed by an EF5 tornado that hit the town on May 20. Both teachers shielded eight to 10 kindergarten students with their bodies as the school collapsed, and a car was amongst the wreckage that was found on top of them. 23 people, including seven Plaza Towers students, were killed in the tornado.

Gillespie served as part of a team of first responders during an April 17 fertilizer plant explosion in the town of West, just 18 miles north of Waco. The explosion killed 15 people and injured more than 200; of those killed, nine were firefighters from five departments, including five volunteers from West.

Simonds and Canaday will symbolize those who performed heroic duties and those who perished in the Moore tornado, as well as other tornadoes that have hit Oklahoma and Texas recently. Gillespie is honoring the work of first responders, his fellow residents in West that were affected by the explosion, and the fallen firefighters from the West, Dallas, Bruceville-Eddy, Abbott and Mertens fire departments.

“On behalf of Firestone and Texas Motor Speedway, we wanted to honor Jennifer, Anna and CJ for their acts of heroism while also paying tribute to those lost in the tragedies in Moore, Oklahoma, and West, Texas,” said TMS vice president of media relations Mike Zizzo in a statement. “These are everyday people who exhibited a tremendous amount of courage to save lives while risking their own, and probably would never consider themselves heroes for their selfless deeds. But they definitely are in many, if not all, of our eyes.”

“On a larger scale, honoring Jennifer, Anna and CJ also gives all of us an opportunity to pay tribute to the heroes and those we lost in other recent deadly tornadoes in our region as well as express our gratitude for all first responders and the courage they continually display.”