Challenged by pandemic, Brad Keselowski’s Checkered Flag Foundation keeps rolling

Brad Keselowski foundation pandemic
Brittany Butterworth Photography

Brad Keselowski and the Checkered Flag Foundation buttoned up a decade of doing goodwill unto others with an event last Saturday that fittingly was about transitions.

In collaboration with Suiting Warriors (a nonprofit organization that aids veterans with upscale professional attire) and lifestyle clothing brand Ike Behar, Keselowski’s charitable organization provided a half-dozen servicemembers with tailored suits to help prepare for entry into the private sector and civilian workforce that can be a jarring adjustment.

The new threads were a welcome gift for Evan Anderson, a 30-year-old Army Special Operations soldier who was part of the “SuitUp” held at Keselowski Advanced Manufacturing in Statesville, North Carolina.

“In the military, no matter what branch you serve, you wake up and put the same thing on every single day,” Anderson, who is completing a University of South Carolina degree to seek agency work in advertising and marketing, told NBC Sports in a phone interview. “All you need to do is show up in the right uniform the way they tell you to put it on, and you’re good. One of the things that I think gets severely left behind during our transition is how to dress for success and how to create a great first impression.

Evan Anderson, a combat veteran and member of the 1st Special Forces Command, was fitted at the SuitUp event held by the Checkered Flag Foundation, Suiting Warriors and Ike Behar (Brittany Butterworth Photography).

“A lot of us carry a stigma we may not be good enough to go into a civilian career even if we have leadership experience. We feel we might project a certain air, or an employer might look at us differently because we were in the military. When we’re able to figure out what we can do to present ourselves in the best possible way, it really does help with the confidence of our transition.”

Transition also has been a theme this year for the Checkered Flag Foundation, which Keselowski founded in 2010 with a goal of supporting veterans, first responders and their families.

While celebrating the CFF’s 10-year anniversary, the Team Penske driver said his foundation massively shifted its 2020 strategy on the fly after the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic hit, focusing on partnering with more organizations.

“No doubt, there were serious headwinds,” Keselowski said in a phone interview with NBC Sports. “We can certainly shudder in the face of them, or we can get creative and adapt. We tried really hard to get creative and adapt.

“We were supposed to have a big fundraiser and instead made it a very small one and made it all about the people we serve rather than try to raise funds. We were fortunate to have some funding in the kitty to carry us through the year. Obviously, that won’t last forever, but we used all those resources wisely in order to get us this far, so I’m proud of our team for being able to really tighten up and bear the storm, but do it in such a way that we didn’t slow down on the things we wanted to get done.

“Ten years have gone fast, I still remember announcing the foundation in March 2010, and I’ve still got a lot more I want to do. ”

Despite the pandemic, Checkered Flag Foundation still managed to assist on several major projects in 2020.

Among the highlights:

–The opening of Fisher House in Ann Arbor, Michigan, which houses the family members of veterans while they are receiving medical center treatment (Keselowski, who hails from Rochester Hills, Michigan, has family members who have been treated at a nearby VA hospital).

–The training and presentation of a service canine (named “Khaos”) donated to a veteran through Black Paw Canine in a program called “Hero’s Homecoming.”

The third year of Tribute 2 Veterans that puts veterans’ names on Keselowski’s Autotrader-sponsored No. 2 Ford at Atlanta Motor Speedway (the March 21, 2021 race is open for nominating veterans, military members or family military members through the program’s nomination site).

–Providing frontline workers at Atrium Health with meals and facemasks, which also were distributed at the Ann Arbor VA. Keselowski appreciated that because “it gave us the ability to help nurses and make sure veterans were honored in the last day of their lives.

“Unfortunately, a lot of veterans pass away by themselves without any support structure,” he said. “Their final days are not what I think any of us would like for them to be. We’re able to help that out a little bit and then also support the nurses as well. It’s traumatic for all parties involved.”

The goal often is maximizing efficacy and efficiency. Keselowski said it can be challenging for a charitable organization in choosing the worthiest opportunities, particularly during a pandemic that creates great need but also puts limits and restrictions on the methodology for helping.

“We get a lot of individual requests of, ‘Hey, so and so passed away and would like funds on their behalf for families,’” he said. “Those are certainly noble causes, but they are very hard for us to vet and ensure the success of the funding. Some partnerships go better that can really help keep us from being the arbiters of those in need.

Brad Keselowski meets with servicemembers during the SuitUp event at Keselowski Advanced Manufacturing (Brittany Butterworth Photography).

“The last thing I want to do is be asking someone their story and telling them, ‘Look, I know you made a huge sacrifice, but really, it’s not enough to pass our threshold.’ I want us to be in a spot where we can partner with a group that knows what’s going on behind the scenes and also is doing a good job at making sure the right candidates are helped in a way that will be impactful for a long time.”

Those partnerships don’t always involve large organizations. Keselowski said CFF sponsored two veterans in rehab programs because they were recommended by a judge who found their recovery attempts to be sincere.

“We look for causes like that,” Keselowski said. “I’m just trying to be impactful. I think there’s a lot we can do, and it’s hard sometimes to really focus on what mission will make a difference. And we get a lot of individual requests, and the reality is, more times than not, those are not really a wise use of funds or time.

“We’re trying to be really thoughtful, really diligent with the things we support so they can be impactful in a long-lasting way. And this year as much as any other year, I feel we did a hell of a job with that. I’m really proud of it.”

Even with social distancing, there is no substitute for an in-person experience, though. That made last Saturday’s event more special for Keselowski, who wants “clear, tangible results and knowing someone is walking away in a better position before I met them and for them to feel the same way, no matter what it is we’re doing to help them.”

A meet and greet with the servicemembers, most of whom were involved with Special Operations, also was a chance to live vicariously for Keselowski, who often has said he would have enlisted if he wasn’t racing.

“Almost all of them are NASCAR fans, which is pretty cool,” he said. “I just love hearing their stories about ‘I trained in this battlefield.’ And then their mannerisms are so special. All of them are super classy but smart and articulate, which I don’t think a lot of the time our veterans get the credit they deserve for that.”

Nick Syer is fitted for ‘the softest and most comfortable suit’ he ever has owned (Brittany Butterworth Photography).

Nick Syer, who joined the Marine Corps out of high school in 2008, has been deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, Jordan, Qatar and Bahrain, helping teach skills in close-quarters battles, explosives and ballistic breaching with shotguns.

But the Rochester, New York, native also is a self-taught mechanic interested in a high-performance automotive career, which added another dimension to the SuitUp being held at Keselowski’s former race shop.

“As soon as we got there, I was poking around on all of Brad’s cars like a kid in a toy store,” Syer, 31, said with a laugh about touring a collection that includes a few of Keselowski’s NASCAR winners and a Ford GT.

But just as important was getting fitted for “the softest and most comfortable” suit he ever had worn.

“I’m not the most knowledgeable about it; the need for suits isn’t what I’ve been doing the last decade-plus,” he said. “But for individuals in the special operations community or just the military in general transitioning into the private or civilian sector, it’s important. A first impression with anyone is huge, especially during a job interview, so having a quality suit gives off that positive first impression and a little more presence. You just look professional

“I’m not one usually to take handouts or gifts, so I’m extremely grateful for the foundation. What they’re letting me leave here with is great.”

Anderson, who has been deployed three times to the Middle East, has explored starting a media company to help veteran business owners and had the chance to pick Keselowski’s brain about entrepreneurship.

“Transition is hectic because not only are we thinking about stuff like the state of the job market in the pandemic, we’re thinking about retirement and separation benefits and about dealing with the VA and where we’re going to move our family and health care,” said Anderson, who was born and raised in Tacoma, Washington, but fell in love with Southern living after being stationed at Fort Bragg.

“This is just one less thing off a huge plate of stuff to have to deal with. I honestly do most of my learning from speaking to people and learning from their experience and lessons of things they wish they would have done differently.”

Keselowski said his best advice is “to learn Industry 4.0. It’s coming like a freight train, and it’s going to be digital. If you can learn Industry 4.0, you have a great chance of being successful in the near and long-term future.”

The opportunities could come directly from the event’s location – the 70,000-square-foot facility that houses Keselowski Advanced Manufacturing, the 3-D printing company that Keselowski opened two years ago. With business booming, Keselowski recently posted a Twitter thread inviting displaced NASCAR team members to apply at KAM – and about 40 did.

“We hired three after interviewing almost 20,” said Keselowski, who estimates 50 percent of the KAM payroll is comprised of former NASCAR industry members. “I tried to hire a dozen, but some work out better than others, and some people might get other opportunities, and that’s OK. We reviewed every person, and we certainly moved forward with hiring some, which was exciting.”

Between managing KAM’s exponential growth and enjoying a career renaissance in Cup last season (a runner-up points finish was his best since the 2012 championship), Keselowski relies heavily on day-to-day oversight of the Checkered Flag Foundation through his wife, Paige, and managing director Emily Gibson.

Keselowski said the work brings he and Paige closer together as “a way to show our gratitude, especially given the life we are so privileged to live.

“Whenever there’s an event coming up, she’s the one who’s scheduling it,” Keselowski said. “She’s the one making sure all the behind-the-scenes details are ready to go. She likes to work behind the scenes and coordinate and get things organized, and she does a hell of a job at it.

“Without having her doing those things, it would have been impossible to pull off the things we did this year. She’s not doing it alone, but Paige is a significant driving force to making the foundation a success.”

Keselowski said the organization’s biggest successes are measured in helping veterans “that are pretty incredible people in many ways,” especially around the holiday season when mental health can be a struggle for some. Keselowski said he has been distressed having read about rising suicide rates for veterans.

“It scares the bejesus out of you,” he said. “You can sit and kind of cry and complain about it or you can get up and go to work on it.

“I don’t think there’s anybody who can do everything, but we can all do a little bit of something, and I’m glad my foundation can do a little bit of something to help.”

Appeal panel gives William Byron his 25 points back


William Byron is back in a transfer spot after the National Motorsports Appeals Panel rescinded his 25-point penalty Thursday for spinning Denny Hamlin at Texas.

By getting those 25 points back, Byron enters Sunday’s elimination playoff race at the Charlotte Roval (2 p.m. ET on NBC) 14 points above the cutline.

Daniel Suarez is now in the final transfer spot to the Round of 8. He is 12 points ahead of Chase Briscoe and Austin Cindric. Christopher Bell is 45 points behind Suarez. Alex Bowman will not race this week as he continues to recover from concussion symptoms and has been eliminated from Cup title contention.

NASCAR did not penalize Byron after his incident with Hamlin because series officials did not see the contact. Two days later, NASCAR penalized Byron 25 points and fined him $50,000 for intentionally wrecking Hamlin.

The National Motorsports Appeals Panel stated that Byron violated the rule but amended the penalty to no loss of driver and owner points while increasing the fine to $100,000.

The panel did not give a reason for its decision. NASCAR cannot appeal the panel’s decision.

The panel consisted of Hunter Nickell, a former TV executive, Dale Pinilis, track operator of Bowman Gray Stadium and Kevin Whitaker, owner of Greenville-Pickens Speedway.

Here is the updated standings heading into Sunday’s race at the Roval:

Byron’s actions took place after the caution waved at Lap 269 for Martin Truex Jr.’s crash. As Hamlin slowed, Byron closed and hit him in the rear. 

Byron admitted after the race that the contact was intentional, although he didn’t mean to wreck Hamlin. Byron was upset with how Hamlin raced him on Lap 262. Byron felt Hamlin forced him into the wall as they exited Turn 2 side-by-side. Byron expressed his displeasure during the caution.

“I felt like he ran me out of race track off of (Turn) 2 and had really hard contact with the wall,” Byron said. “Felt like the toe link was definitely bent, luckily not fully broken. We were able to continue.

“A lot of times that kind of damage is going to ruin your race, especially that hard. I totally understand running somebody close and making a little bit of contact, but that was pretty massive.”

On the retaliatory hit, Byron said: “I didn’t mean to spin him out. That definitely wasn’t what I intended to do. I meant to bump him a little bit and show my displeasure and unfortunately, it happened the way it did. Obviously, when he was spinning out, I was like ‘I didn’t mean to do this,’ but I was definitely frustrated.”

Drivers for Drive for Diversity combine revealed


The 13 drivers who will participate in the Advance Auto Part Drive for Diversity Combine were revealed Thursday and range in age from 13-19.

The NASCAR Drive for Diversity Development Program was created in 2004 to develop and train ethnically diverse and female drivers both on and off the track. Cup drivers Bubba Wallace, Daniel Suarez and Kyle Larson came through the program.

The 2020 and 2021 combines were canceled due to the impact of COVID-19.

“We are thrilled that we are in a position to return to an in-person evaluation for this year’s Advance Auto Parts Drive for Diversity Combine,” Rev Racing CEO Max Seigel said in a statement. “We are energized by the high-level of participating athletes and look forward to building the best driver class for 2023. As an organization, we have never been more positioned for success and future growth.”

The youngest drivers are Quinn Davis and Nathan Lyons, who are both 13 years old.

The group includes 17-year-old Andrés Pérez de Lara, who finished seventh in his ARCA Menards Series debut in the Sept. 15 race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Also among those invited to the combine is 15-year old Katie Hettinger, who will make her ARCA Menards Series West debut Oct.. 14 at the Las Vegas Bullring. She’s also scheduled to compete in the ARCA West season finale Nov. 4 at Phoenix Raceway.




Age Hometown
Justin Campbell 17 Griffin, Georgia
Quinn Davis 13 Sparta, Tennessee
Eloy Sebastián

López Falcón

17 Mexico City, Mexico
Katie Hettinger 15 Dryden, MI
Caleb Johnson 15 Denver, CO
Nathan Lyons 13 Concord, NC
Andrés Pérez de Lara 17 Mexico City, Mexico
Jaiden Reyna 16 Cornelius, NC
Jordon Riddick 17 Sellersburg, IN
Paige Rogers 19 New Haven, IN
Lavar Scott 19 Carney’s Point, NJ
Regina Sirvent 19 Mexico City, Mexico
Lucas Vera 15 Charlotte, NC


Dr. Diandra: Crashes: Causes and complications


Two drivers have missed races this year after hard rear-end crashes. Kurt Busch has been out since an incident in qualifying at Pocono in July. Alex Bowman backed hard into a wall at Texas and will miss Sunday’s race at the Charlotte Roval (2 p.m. ET, NBC).

Other drivers have noted that the hits they’ve taken in the Next Gen car are among the hardest they’ve felt in a Cup car.

“When I crashed it (at Auto Club Speedway in practice), I thought the car was destroyed, and it barely backed the bumper off. It just felt like somebody hit you with a hammer,” Kevin Harvick told NBC Sports.

The three most crucial parameters in determining the severity of a crash are:

  • How much kinetic energy the car carries
  • How long the collision takes
  • The angle at which the car hits


The last of these factors requires trigonometry to explain properly. You can probably intuit, however, that a shallower hit is preferable to a head-on — or rear-on — hit.

A graphic show shallower (low-angle) hits and deeper (high-angle) hits
Click for a larger view

When the angle between the car and the wall is small, most of the driver’s momentum starts and remains in the direction parallel to the wall. The car experiences a small change in velocity.

The larger the angle, the larger the change in perpendicular speed and the more force experienced. NASCAR has noted that more crashes this season have had greater angles than in the past.

Busch and Bowman both had pretty large-angle hits, so we’ll skip the trig.

Energy — in pounds of TNT

A car’s kinetic energy depends on how much it weighs and how fast it’s going. But the relationship between kinetic energy and speed is not linear: It’s quadratic. That means going twice as fast gives you four times more kinetic energy.

The graph shows the kinetic energies of different kinds of race cars at different speeds. To give you an idea of how much energy we’re talking about, I expressed the kinetic energy in terms of equivalent pounds of TNT.

A vertical bar graph showing kinetic energies for different types of racecars and their energies

  • A Next Gen car going 180 mph has the same kinetic energy as is stored in almost three pounds of TNT.
  • Because IndyCars are about half the weight of NASCAR’s Next Gen car, an IndyCar has about half the kinetic energy of a Next Gen car when both travel at the same speed.
  • At 330 mph, Top Fuel drag racers carry the equivalent of six pounds of TNT in kinetic energy.

All of a car’s kinetic energy must be transformed to other types of energy when the car slows or stops. NASCAR states that more crashes are occurring at higher closing speeds, which means more kinetic energy.

Longer collisions > shorter collisions

That seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it? Who wants to be in a crash any longer than necessary?

But the longer a collision takes, the more time there is to transform kinetic energy.

A pitting car starts slowing down well below it reaches its pit box. The car’s kinetic energy is transformed into heat energy (brakes and rotors warming), light energy (glowing rotors), and even sound energy (tires squealing).

The same amount of kinetic energy must be transformed in a collision — but much faster. In addition to heat, light and sound, energy is transformed via the car spinning and parts deforming or breaking. (This video about Michael McDowell’s 2008 Texas qualifying crash goes into more detail.)

The force a collision produces depends on how long the car takes to stop. Compare the force from your seat belt when you slow down at a stop sign to what you feel if you have to suddenly slam on the brakes.

To give you an idea of how fast collisions can be, the initial wall impact in the crash that killed Dale Earnhardt Sr. lasted only eight-hundredths (0.08) of a second.

SAFER barriers use a car’s kinetic energy to move a heavy steel wall and crush pieces of energy-absorbing foam. That extracts energy from the car, plus the barrier extends the collision time.

The disadvantage is that a car with lower kinetic energy won’t move the barrier. Then it’s just like running into a solid wall.

That’s the same problem the Next Gen car seems to have.

Chassis stiffness: A Goldilocks problem

The Next Gen chassis is a five-piece, bolt-together car skeleton, as shown below.

A graphic showing the five parts of the Next Gen chassis.
Graphic courtesy of NASCAR. Click to enlarge.
The foam surrounding the outside of the rear bumper
The purple is energy-absorbing foam. Graphic courtesy of NASCAR. Click for a larger view.

That graphic doesn’t show another important safety feature: the energy absorbing foam that covers the outside of the bumpers. It’s purple in the next diagram.

All cars are designed so that the strongest part of the car surrounds the occupants. Race cars are no different.

The center section of the Next Gen chassis is made from stout steel tubing and sheet metal. Components become progressively weaker as you move away from the cockpit. The bumper, for example, is made of aluminum alloy rather than steel. The goal is transforming all the kinetic energy before it reaches the driver.

Because the Next Gen car issues are with rear impacts, I’ve expanded and highlighted the last two pieces of the chassis.

The rear clip and bumper, with the fuel cell and struts shaded

The bumper and the rear clip don’t break easily enough. The rear ends of Gen-6 cars were much more damaged than the Next Gen car after similar impacts.

If your initial thought is “Just weaken the struts,” you’ve got good instincts. However, there are two challenges.

I highlighted the first one in red: the fuel cell. About the only thing worse than a hard collision is a hard collision and a fire.

The other challenge is that a chassis is a holistic structure: It’s not like each piece does one thing independent of all the other pieces. Changing one element to help soften rear collisions might make other types of collisions harder.

Chassis are so complex that engineers must use finite-element-analysis computer programs to predict their behavior. These programs are analogous to (and just as complicated as) the computational fluid dynamics programs aerodynamicists use.

Progress takes time

An under-discussed complication was noted by John Patalak, managing director of safety engineering for NASCAR. He told NBC Sports’ Dustin Long in July that he was surprised by the rear-end crash stiffness.

The Next Gen car’s crash data looked similar to that from the Gen-6 car, but the data didn’t match the drivers’ experiences. Before addressing the car, his team had to understand the disparity in the two sets of data.

They performed a real-world crash test on a new configuration Wednesday. These tests are complex and expensive: You don’t do them until you’re pretty confident what you’ve changed will make a significant difference.

But even if the test goes exactly as predicted, they aren’t done.

Safety is a moving target.

And always will be.

NASCAR weekend schedule for Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval


NASCAR Cup Series drivers race on the road for the final time this season Sunday, as the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval course ends the playoffs’ Round of 12.

The 17-turn, 2.28-mile course incorporating the CMS oval and infield will determine the eight drivers who will advance to the next round of the playoffs. Chase Elliott won last Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway and is the only driver who has qualified for a spot in the Round of 8.

Entering Sunday’s race, Austin Cindric, William Byron, Christopher Bell and Alex Bowman are below the playoff cutline. Bowman will not qualify for the next round because he is sidelined by concussion-like symptoms.

The race (2 p.m ET) will be broadcast by NBC.

Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (Cup and Xfinity)

Weekend weather

Friday: Sunny. High of 81 with a 6% chance of rain.

Saturday: Mixed clouds and sun. High of 67 with a 3% chance of rain.

Sunday: Sunny. High of 68 with a 3% chance of rain.

Friday, Oct. 7

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 12 – 5 p.m. — Xfinity Series

Saturday, Oct. 8

Garage open

  • 7 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. — Cup Series
  • 8:30 a.m. — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 10 – 10:30 a.m. — Xfinity practice (NBC Sports App)
  • 10:30 – 11:30 a.m. — Xfinity qualifying (NBC Sports App)
  • 12 – 1 p.m. — Cup practice (NBC Sports App, USA Network coverage begins at 12:30 p.m.)
  • 1 – 2 p.m. — Cup qualifying (USA Network, NBC Sports App)
  • 3 p.m. — Xfinity race (67 laps, 155.44 miles; NBC, Peacock, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, Oct. 9

Garage open

  • 11 a.m. — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 2 p.m. — Cup race (109 laps, 252.88 miles; NBC, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)