Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt will serve as the grand marshal and give the command to start engines for Sunday’s Daytona 500, Daytona International Speedway officials announced.
Watt becomes the first NFL player to give the command to start engines in The Great American Race’s 61-year history.
“I am honored to have the opportunity to serve as Grand Marshal for this year’s ‘Great American Race,’” Watt said in a statement. “The Daytona 500 is a truly iconic event with a rich history and I am very much looking forward to taking in the action up close and personal this year.”
A three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Watts is also known for his charity work, most notably raising more than $41 million for Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts for the city of Houston in 2017. He was awarded the prestigious Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award for his hurricane relief efforts.
“We’re ecstatic to have a person who has shown to be not only an incredible athlete, but also somebody who has done so much for communities in need,” Daytona International Speedway president Chip Wile said. “J.J. is one of the best players currently in the NFL and now he’s going to be our Grand Marshal. … It’s a spectacular pairing.”
William Byron will start the 200-lap, 500-mile race on the pole, while Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman will start alongside Byron on the front row. The rest of the 40-car starting lineup will be determined in Thursday night’s two Gander RV Duels, beginning at 7 p.m. ET.