For the last three weeks, NASCAR’s Nextel Cup cars have all displayed a Virginia Tech logo with a black background in a show of support for the victims and families of the massacre that left 33 dead in Blacksburg on April 16.
On Saturday night, in the series’ first visit to the state since Seung-Hui Cho shot 32 fellow students and faculty members at Virginia Tech before also killing himself, the decals were just a symbol, and the support was something more tangible: money.
In prerace introductions, Virginia drivers Jeff and Ward Burton, Elliott Sadler and Denny Hamlin presented Hokies football coach Frank Beamer with a check for $120,000 for the Hokies Spirit Memorial Fund. And Richmond International Raceway president Doug Fritz presented him with a check for $40,000, also for the memorial fund, that he said was given by RIR and some sister tracks also owned by International Speedway Corp.
Beamer, who often comes to races at RIR, said thanks during the driver’s meeting.
“I’ve long admired and respected what you guys do, and I come here tonight admiring and respecting and very much appreciating everything that NASCAR has done for Virginia Tech,” Beamer said in addressing the drivers, crew chiefs and team owners.
He continued, his composure challenged with every word as he looked out over a room full of people, many wearing hats with the Hokies logo and maroon and orange colors.
“I want to tell you we’re not going to be remembered, now, as the place where 32 people were shot,” he said. “We’re going to be remembered as the place where we had a terrible tragedy and, with help from people like yourselves, came back and are stronger and tighter and more caring than ever. And that’s the way we’re going to do it.”
Beamer wasn’t the only person at the meeting still teetering on an emotional tightrope because of the initial horror and lasting devastation of the shootings.
Track president Doug Fritz is a graduate of the school and his daughter, Laura, is a sophomore resident assistant there. She was close friends with three of the people killed, and it took her parents until midday to reach her the day of the carnage.
“She’s doing all right,” Fritz said, his chin fluttering.
Jeff Burton said the check was an effort by several people to do something to help the victims, their families and the school with what are certain to be lasting issues.
“When you get down the road, things have a way of losing momentum,” he said. “We’re just trying to give some money to something that can help people in the long term.
“People will be dealing with this for a long time.”
Beamer, who spent much of April 16 watching the developments on television from his home, said the weeks since have been some of his most challenging as an adult.
“When I went to speak to the families of the victims, that might have been one of the hardest things that I’ve ever been through,” he said after the meeting. “That will bring you to your knees in a hurry to look back and see the pain and the hurt.”
Beamer said visiting with those injured was also emotional.
Among the drivers, Ricky Rudd of Chesapeake and Ward Burton sported Virginia Tech hats during the drivers’ meeting, and Jimmie Johnson has been wearing one all weekend.
“I’m just trying to let the kids know and their families know that, if they’re watching NASCAR, we’re thinking of them,” Johnson said.
He said the tragedy hit home hard at Hendrick Motorsports because it employs numerous Virginia Tech grads.