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.”

NASCAR penalizes Erik Jones, Legacy MC for L1 violation


NASCAR has docked Erik Jones and Legacy Motor Club 60 points and five playoff points each, suspended crew chief Dave Elenz two races and fined him $75,000 for the L1 violation discovered this week at the R&D Center. The team was found to have modified the greenhouse.

The penalty drops Jones from 26th to 30th in the standings heading into Sunday’s race at Sonoma Raceway.

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“We have been diligently working with NASCAR regarding the penalty and are working internally to determine the course of action in response,” said Joey Cohen, vice president, race operations for Legacy MC, in a statement. “We will announce that decision within the timeframe determined by the NASCAR Rule Book.”

Cohen will serve as interim crew chief during Elenz’s suspension.

Jones’ car was among those brought to NASCAR’s R&D Center in Concord, North Carolina, after last weekend’s race at WWT Raceway.

NASCAR cited the team for violating:

Section 14.1.C: Vehicles must comply with Section 14 Vehicle and Driver Safety Specifications of the NASCAR Rule Book at all times during an Event. Failure to comply will be subject to Penalty pursuant to Section 10 Violations and Disciplinary Action.

Section 14.1.D: Except in cases explicitly permitted in the NASCAR Rules, installation of additional components, repairs, deletions, and/or modifications to Next Gen Single Source Vendor-supplied parts and/or assemblies will not be permitted.

Section 14.1.2.B: All parts and assemblies must comply with the NASCAR Engineering Change Log.

NASCAR also announced penalties Wednesday in the Craftsman Truck Series.

Crew chief Andrew Abbott has been fined $5,000, Young’s Motorsports has been penalized 25 points and Chris Hacker has been docked 25 points for a violation with the team’s window net.

Crew chief Charles Denike has been fined $2,500 for a lug nut not properly installed on Christian Eckes‘ truck for TRICON Garage.

Kamui Kobayashi to make NASCAR debut with 23XI Racing at Indy


LE MANS, France (AP) — Left out of the NASCAR celebration at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Toyota used Wednesday at the track to showcase its own stock car program and the upcoming Cup Series debut for one of the top racers in the world.

Kamui Kobayashi will make his NASCAR debut on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course with Toyota in August driving for 23XI Racing, the team owned by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan.

The announcement made Wednesday had several top NASCAR executives in attendance – including chairman Jim France – as Toyota found Le Mans to be the perfect backdrop to spotlight the one-race deal.

Toyota Gazoo, after all, has won Le Mans the last five consecutive years and Kobayashi, part of the 2021 winning effort, is team principal of the two-car organization that will try to make it six straight wins in the most prestigious endurance event in the world.

Toyota had initially felt jilted when NASCAR blindsided the industry last year by announcing it would bring its new Next Gen car to centenary Le Mans in a specialized category that showcases innovation, but the project was with Chevrolet and Hendrick Motorsports. Toyota was the first rival NASCAR manufacturer to complain, and NASCAR has since tried to include all its partners in this weekend’s celebration and France signed off on holding the Kobayashi announcement at Le Mans.

It allowed Toyota to display the Camry it races in NASCAR; Kobayashi will drive the No. 67 in the Aug. 13 race. This will be the second race for the No. 67 car for 23XI Racing. Travis Pastrana finished 11th in the car at this year’s Daytona 500.

“We’ve been working on this assignment actually for a couple of years and Kamui has become a friend and we understood it was his dream one day to race in NASCAR,” said David Wilson, president of TRD, U.S.A. “With this great new Next Gen Toyota Camry TRD, the stars and planets started to align themselves and the next question became: Where should we announce this?

“It dawned on me with Kamui’s record of success, and being the team principal, to do it on this global stage at the biggest sports car race in the world.”

Kobayashi will be only the second Japanese driver to race in NASCAR’s top Cup Series and only the fifth to race in one of NASCAR’s top three national series. Kobayashi will be the first driver from Japan to race in the Cup Series in a Toyota, which entered NASCAR’s top series in 2007.

“It’s my dream, actually,” Kobayashi told The Associated Press. “It’s such a big sport in the United States and racing in Europe, I never had the chance or opportunity to race NASCAR. I think the opportunity will be challenging for myself because it is such a different category.

“But if I have success, I think it will make more opportunities for Japanese drivers. Toyota has been in NASCAR a long time, but there has never been any Japanese drivers for Toyota. That’s also why I say I appreciate this opportunity for myself.”

Kobayashi won the 24 Hours of Le Mans for Toyota in 2021 and hasn’t finished lower than third since 2018. He has six podium finishes in eight appearances in the iconic endurance race.

Toyota trails only Bentley, Jaguar, Ferrari, Audi and Porsche for most wins at Le Mans. Porsche holds the record with 19 victories.

Kobayashi in 2021, after winning Le Mans and the World Endurance Championship title driving for Toyota Gazoo, was named team principal.

Kobayashi started his racing career karting in Japan but was discovered by Toyota while racing in Europe. He was named one of Toyota’s reserve Formula One drivers and made his debut during the 2009 season at the Brazilian Grand Prix. He raced in F1 through 2014 with one podium finish in 75 career starts.

Following his F1 career, Kobayashi returned to Japan and switched to the Super Formula Series, a class he still actively competes in. He’s since won the Rolex 24 at Daytona twice and was the anchor on an IMSA endurance sports car team in the United States for two seasons that was formed by seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson.

Kobayashi loves racing in the United States, but IMSA’s adoption of new regulations to make its top class eligible to compete at Le Mans created a conflict of interest between Kobayashi’s Toyota responsibilities and continuing to race in IMSA, where Toyota is not represented in the top class. Toyota does field a Lexus in a lower IMSA division and Kobayashi raced for Vasser Sullivan Racing last June in Canada to get a feel for the GT car.

Many consider NASCAR’s Next Gen car to be very similar to the GT Lexus sports car that Kobayashi drove in IMSA last year, and that’s his closest experience to driving a stock car. He’ll be permitted to test with 23XI at a small track in Virginia ahead of the race at Indianapolis, and expects some time on the simulator.

Either way, he isn’t worried about seat time.

“I think I’m a guy who doesn’t need much practice, to be honest,” the 36-year-old Kobayashi told the AP. “I think once we jump in the car, we will be OK in a couple of laps. So I’m not really concerned about form.”

Drivers to watch at Sonoma Raceway


This weekend begins a key period for Cup drivers. Sunday’s race at Sonoma Raceway begins a stretch of four road course events in the next 10 races. The race to make the playoffs and to score playoff points is intensifying.


Tyler Reddick

  • Points position: 10th
  • Best finish this season: 1st (Circuit of the Americas)
  • Past at Sonoma: Does not have a top 15 in two previous starts

Reddick has won three of the last five Cup races on road courses, but Sonoma has been his kryptonite. He has yet to lead a lap there. Reddick’s three road course wins have been at Road America, Indianapolis and COTA.

Chase Elliott

  • Points position: 28th
  • Best finish this season: 2nd (Fontana)
  • Past at Sonoma: Four top 10s, including a runner-up, in six starts

Elliott returns to the series after sitting out last weekend’s race at WWT Raceway due to suspension. He’s in a must-win situation to make the playoffs. Known for his prowess on road courses, Elliott’s last win at such a track came in 2021 at Road America. In the nine races at road courses since that win, Elliott has two runner-up finishes and six top 10s.

Kyle Busch

  • Points position: 7th
  • Best finish this season: 1st (Fontana, Talladega I, WWT Raceway)
  • Past at Sonoma: Had six straight finishes of seventh or better before placing 30th last year

Busch is tied with William Byron for the most wins this season with three. Busch has placed in the top three in the last two road course races. He has led in five of the last seven Sonoma Cup races. He is a two-time Sonoma winner, taking the checkered flag in 2008 and ’15.


Denny Hamlin 

  • Points position: 8th
  • Best finish this season: 1st (Kansas I)
  • Past at Sonoma: Five consecutive top 10s until finishing 31st last year

Hamlin has not had a top-10 finish at a road course in the Next Gen car. He has an 18.4 average finish at road courses since last season. His best finish at a road course in that time is 13th at the Charlotte Roval.

Ross Chastain

  • Points position: 5th
  • Best finish this season: 2nd (Dover)
  • Past at Sonoma: Two straight top-10 finishes

Chastain lost the points lead last weekend after his third consecutive finish outside the top 20. His fourth-place finish at Circuit of the Americas this season broke a streak of three consecutive finishes outside the top 20 at road courses.

Chris Buescher

  • Points position: 13th
  • Best finish this season: 3rd (Talladega I)
  • Past at Sonoma: His runner-up finish last year was his first top 10 there in six starts

Until last year, Sonoma had not been kind to Buescher. He enters this weekend have scored six consecutive top 10s at road courses.

NASCAR Power Rankings: William Byron, Kyle Busch rank 1-2


Kyle Busch moved closer to the top spot after his win Sunday at WWT Raceway, but William Byron keeps hold of No. 1 after another top-10 run.

The series heads to Sonoma Raceway this weekend, the second race of the season on a road course.


(Previous ranking in parenthesis)

1. William Byron (1) — He goes into Sonoma with six consecutive top-10 finishes after his eighth-place result at WWT Raceway. Byron has led a series-high 717 laps this season.

2. Kyle Busch (4) — Recorded his third win of the season Sunday. He is tied with Byron for most wins this year. Busch scored 59 of a maximum 60 points and won his first stage of the year Sunday. He has 16 playoff points. Only Byron has more with 17 this season.

3. Kyle Larson (3) — His fourth-place finish continued his up-and-down season. In the last nine races, Larson has two wins, four top fives, a 20th-place result and four finishes of 30th or worse. He has led 588 laps this season, which ranks second this year to Byron.

4. Martin Truex Jr. (2) — His fifth-place finish is his sixth top 10 in the last eight races. He ranks third in laps led this year with 383.

5. Denny Hamlin (7) — Runner-up result at WWT Raceway is his fourth top 10 in the last seven races.

6. Ryan Blaney (10) — Followed Coca-Cola 600 win with a sixth-place run at WWT Raceway. He had an average running position of 2.6 on Sunday, second only to winner Kyle Busch’s average running position of 1.9.

7. Joey Logano (9) — Third-place finish is his second top 10 in the last four races.

8. Kevin Harvick (NR) — His 10th-place finish is his fourth consecutive finish of 11th or better.

9. Ross Chastain (6) — Lost the points lead after placing 22nd, his third consecutive finish outside the top 20.

10. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (NR) — Headed for his eighth top 15 in a row until he was collected in a crash after the contact between Austin Cindric and Austin Dillon late in Sunday’s race.

Dropped out: Chase Elliott (5th), Tyler Reddick (8th)