War memorials take many forms. The Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., are two examples that remind millions of visitors each year that their freedom comes at a very high price. Traditionally, years pass after the end of fighting before such monuments are constructed – the memorial wall listing dead and missing Vietnam soldiers did not open until 1982 – but Kevyn Major Howard wanted to remind the public of the sacrifices military personnel are making right now.
Howard’s career was built on getting people’s attention. The Canadian-born actor moved to Hollywood after graduating high school and found he was not happy with what passed for a “headshot” in the movie industry. Because the headshot photograph is the first (and sometimes last) chance aspiring actors have to make an impression on casting agents, Howard took his own picture with a borrowed camera, delivered it to Paramount Studios, and received a call for an audition 30 minutes later.
Howard got that first acting job and has appeared in dozens of movies such as Full Metal Jacket and Alien Nation and episodes of popular television programs such as Magnum P.I. and Miami Vice. In a profitable second career, he has also become indispensible in the entertainment community as a portrait photographer – the “King of the Hollywood Headshot,” as he was dubbed in a recent documentary on Discovery Channel.
One day in 2006, news from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq made Howard think about what he could do, as an individual, to help soldiers and their families through the conflict. Although he did not serve in the military, he knew its personnel had dangerous and sometimes thankless jobs to perform, and that their loved ones often suffered emotional and financial hardships.
“I was watching the news one evening,” Howard said, “and they listed 12 soldiers who had been killed that day. The next morning, I tried to recall just one of their names and couldn’t. They were fallen heroes who at least deserved to be remembered for their sacrifice.
“To die while defending your country is a tragedy; to be forgotten is unforgivable.”
Howard’s imagination gave birth to the Fueled by the Fallen Memorial Race Team – a rolling, tire-burning collection of drag racers that travel the country to raise money for military families. Branch-specific paint schemes are inscribed with the names of those killed in action.
Why did he choose loud drag racers to make his point?
“Even a two-year-old will pay attention to a race car,” he said. “I bought my first Chevy II and dressed it out as a Marines memorial. I believe there were 867 names on that one.”
That car made its public debut on May 25, 2007, when it appeared in the documentary Full Metal Jacket: Between Good and Evil about the making of director Stanley Kubrick’s landmark 1987 Vietnam war film, in which Howard starred as a combat photographer nicknamed “Rafterman.” Two months later, Howard displayed it at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, California, where the heartfelt response convinced him it was time to launch the national tour.
The 11-car team now consists of two Marines racers and one each representing the Army, Air Force, and Navy, with a Coast Guard, National Guard, and two more Army cars in development. A Funny Car painted in Marines dress blues and another in Navy colors will be displayed during the Food Lion AutoFair.
The team made more than 50 appearances during 2007-08, visiting dragstrips, concerts, war memorials, and air shows, collecting more than $100,000 under its 501(c)(3) tax exempt status.
“We just gave $5,000 to beautiful baby Grace Dunn, daughter of Army Sgt. Clayton G. Dunn II,” Howard said. “Her father is a fallen hero – a 22-year-old paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division who died in Balad, Iraq, after an improvised explosive device blew up near his vehicle. This donation is part of what the team does to make sure these heroes are taken care of.”
The Fueled by the Fallen team cars will be displayed in the 3M Car Care Garage during the April 2-5 Food Lion AutoFair at Lowe’s Motor Speedway. Spectators wishing to make a donation may do so at the display; Fueled by the Fallen T-shirts, playing cards, and puzzles will be available for purchase, with all proceeds going to the cause. Visit the group’s website at www.fueledbythefallen.com for more information.
The spring Food Lion AutoFair annually attracts more than 120,000 visitors. It features more than 50 car club displays and more than 7,000 vendor spaces that offer a huge array of automotive parts and memorabilia.
More than 2,000 collectible vehicles of all makes and models will be available for sale in the car corral that rings the 1.5-mile superspeedway.
Food Lion AutoFair hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday through Saturday, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., on Sunday. Tickets are $10 for adults. Tickets are $10 for adults while children 12 and under are admitted free when accompanied by an adult.
Parking for the event is $5.
For more information, contact the Lowe’s Motor Speedway events department at (704) 455-3205 or visit www.lowesmotorspeedway.com.