U.S. Paralympic athlete to serve as honorary race official for Daytona 500

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Interesting note surrounding the Daytona 500: U.S. Paralympic athlete Blake Leeper (pictured, from 2012), currently training to become the first double-amputee American to compete in the Olympic Games in 2016, will serve as an honorary race official for this year’s edition of The Great American Race.

“Blake Leeper is a true inspiration and a legend in the making,” Daytona International Speedway president Joie Chitwood III said in a statement. “We are honored to have him participate in the pre-race ceremonies at the ‘World Center of Racing’ for the thrilling and historic Daytona 500.”

Known as the “American Blade Runner,” Leeper won two medals in the 2012 London Paralympics – a bronze in the 200 meters and a silver in the 400 meters.

He was also part of the United States’ gold medal 4×100 meter relay team at the 2013 IPC World Championships in Lyon, France  – a team that was later recognized as the 2012-13 Paralympic Team of the Year by the United States Olympic Committee.

Leeper was born with both legs missing below the knee and has worn prosthetics since he was nine months old. Now 24, he has been competing internationally since 2009 and is aiming to earn his way onto the U.S. Olympic roster for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

As part of his Daytona duties, Leeper will be introduced at the driver’s meeting, participate in pre-race ceremonies, and ride in one of the honorary race official cars ahead of the 43-car field during pace laps leading up to the green flag on Feb. 23 (1 p.m. ET, check local listings).

Lewis Hamilton receives Daytona 500 invitation from Bubba Wallace

Lewis Hamilton Bubba Wallace
Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images
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Lewis Hamilton is a fan of the new NASCAR Cup Series team formed by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan to field a car for Bubba Wallace.

Will the six-time Formula One champion also be a fan in person at a NASCAR race in the near future?

Wallace is hoping so.

After Hamilton tweeted his support Tuesday morning about the news of a Hamlin-Jordan-Wallace team making its debut with the 2021 season, Wallace responded with a sly invitation to the Daytona 500.

Much would need to be worked out, starting with how much garage and grandstand access would be afforded for a 2021 season opener that likely would occur during a still ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

But it would seem fitting given that Hamilton and Wallace have been two of the world’s most outspoken Black athletes about the quest for diversity and racial justice. Hamilton recently reaffirmed his commitment to activism after his donning a Breonna Taylor shirt sparked an FIA inquiry. Time just published a brief piece by Wallace saluting Hamilton as a trailblazer.

The idea of Hamilton attending the NASCAR season opener already had legs, too. The Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 driver has expressed a desire to race the Daytona 500 after he has retired from Formula One.

He was a spectator (with racing legend Mario Andretti) at four-time champion Jeff Gordon’s final Cup race as a full-time in the 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In 2011, Hamilton swapped cars with three-time champion Tony Stewart at Watkins Glen International.

Having rubbed shoulders with other racing greats so often, it would seem right for Hamilton — who is one victory from tying Michael Schumacher’s career record and also could tie the F1 record with a seventh championship this season — to spend some time with the greatest basketball player of all time.

Jeff Gordon was flanked by Mario Andretti and Lewis Hamilton before the 2015 Cup season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).