Mike Tatoian

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Dover President honored as Comcast Community Champion of the Year

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Comcast has announced that Dover International Speedway President & CEO Mike Tatoian as the fifth annual Comcast Community Champion of the Year. Comcast established the prestigious award in 2015 to honor NASCAR industry members for their philanthropic efforts and with this year’s contributions, Comcast has donated more than a half million dollars ($600,000) to charitable organizations in the NASCAR community through the program.

Tatoian has been a staple of the Delaware and mid-Atlantic charitable communities, particularly with local military organizations at Dover (Del.) Air Force Base, since he began his tenure at the “Monster Mile” in 2007. One of his longest commitments has been with United Service Organizations. Established during World War II, the USO supports U.S. service members wherever they are, including on-base, deployed abroad, passing through an airport or in local communities at more than 200 locations around the world.

“We’re all fortunate to be involved in this great sport and privileged to give back as well; the spirit we recognize throughout NASCAR is the same spirit behind our community impact programs at Comcast,”  said Matt Lederer, Comcast Vice President of Brand Partnerships. “It’s an honor to recognize Mike Tatoian as the 2019 Comcast Community Champion of the Year, he has leveraged his platform within the sport to bring awareness to his genuine passion of supporting the military community.”

MORE: A soldier he never knew inspired track president to do more

One particular duty that distinguishes USO Delaware is it’s the only USO in the world that shares the responsibility of bringing home fallen service members, working alongside other units such as the Air Force Mortuary Affairs, Armed Forces Medical Examiner System, the Joint Personal Effects Depot and the Families of the Fallen. For 13 years, Tatoian has assisted USO Delaware with countless programs and currently serves as the Chairman of the Advisory Council for the organization.

Tatoian was chosen by a panel comprised of Comcast and NASCAR executives, as well as defending NASCAR Cup Series champion, Joey Logano, who won the award in 2018. NASCAR on FOX Coordinating Director, Artie Kempner, and NASCAR driver, David Ragan, nominated as finalists for the award, were each awarded $30,000 toward the amazing work they do with Autism Delaware and Shriners Hospital for Children, respectively.

Kempner started Autism Delaware out of his living room in 1998 after his son, Ethan, had been diagnosed with autism a year earlier, and 20+ years later it’s a statewide service agency offering lifespan services, as well as social and recreational program for families in a safe and welcoming environment. Ragan has been dedicated to supporting Shriners Hospital for Children as a part of their ambassador program since 2012. Ragan spends much of his off-time visiting hospitals, fundraising, as well as inviting patients to the race track for once-in-a-lifetime experiences at NASCAR events.

Comcast has a long track record of community service, aiding in the advancement of local organizations, developing programs and partnerships, mobilizing resources to connect people and inspiring positive and substantive change. To learn more about the Comcast Community Champion of the Year Award, please visit ComcastCommunityChampion.com.

2019 Comcast Community Champion of the Year Award finalists announced

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Comcast has announced the three finalists for this year’s Community Champion of the Year Award, which recognizes the philanthropic efforts of individuals within the NASCAR industry.

Through the award Comcast has donated $600,000 to 15 different NASCAR-affiliated organizations to honor their efforts and help further the impact of their causes.

The three finalists are:

  • Artie Kempner, NASCAR on FOX Coordinating Director and Co-Founder of Autism Delaware
  • David Ragan, Cup Series driver and Ambassador for Shriners Hospitals for Children
  • Mike Tatoian, President and CEO of Dover International Speedway and USO Delaware Chairman

The award winner will be selected by a panel composed of Comcast and NASCAR executives, as well as defending Cup Series champion Joey Logano, who won the award in 2018. Comcast will award $60,000 to the winner’s affiliated charity, and $30,000 to each of the two remaining finalists’ selected charities.

The winner will be announced Nov. 14 at W. South Beach Hotel in Miami in conjunction with the NASCAR Championship Weekend.

Artie Kempner (Wilmington, Delaware) – In 1998, a small group of parents got together in the living room of Marcy and Artie Kempner’s house in Wilmington, Delaware. The Kempner’s had three boys and their middle son, Ethan, had been diagnosed with autism a year earlier. All of the parents at the table had children on the autism spectrum. That gathering was the beginning of Autism Delaware and Artie became the group’s first president. The organization started as a simple support group, but 20+ years later it’s a statewide service agency, fielding more than 1,500 calls from families annually, offering lifespan services, as well as social and recreational program for families in a safe and welcoming environment.

Kempner’s work on the Drive for Autism Celebrity-Am Golf Outing, helped the group raise the necessary money to launch its critically acclaimed adult vocational and employment program known as POW&R, Productive Opportunities for Work & Recreation. Now in its 11th year, POW&R assesses an individual’s strengths and vocational goals, and matches them with community-based employment, volunteer and recreational opportunities. Today, the program serves over 150 adults with autism in paid employment.

David Ragan (Unadilla, Georgia) – Since 2012, Front Row Motorsports driver David Ragan has been dedicated to supporting Shriners Hospital for Children as a part of their ambassador program. Ragan spends much of his off-time visiting hospitals, fundraising, as well as inviting patients to the race track for once-in-a-lifetime experiences at NASCAR events. Ragan’s passion for the hospital goes beyond just the bare-minimum appearance, he makes an effort to remember each patient’s name + story and will continue to stay in touch long after he meets them. Ragan knows the children and families he meets are likely struggling and wants to do what he can to put a smile on their face. His association with the Shriners, as well as being a Shriner himself, has not only brought attention to the hospitals and the great work they are doing, but has increased donations from race fans and team partners. Many people aren’t aware of the great work that the Shriners do, but Ragan has been a strong voice for them for the past 10 years and has changed countless lives because of his great work.

Mike Tatoian (Dover, Delaware) – Mike Tatoian has been a staple of the Delaware and mid-Atlantic charitable communities, particularly with local military organizations at Dover (Del.) Air Force Base, since he began his tenure at the “Monster Mile” in 2007. One of his longest commitments has been with United Service Organizations. Established during World War II, the USO supports U.S. service members wherever they are, including on-base, deployed abroad, passing through an airport or in local communities at more than 200 locations around the world. One-particular duty that distinguishes USO Delaware is it’s the only USO in the world that shares the responsibility of bringing home fallen service members, working alongside other units such as the Air Force Mortuary Affairs, Armed Forces Medical Examiner System, the Joint Personal Effects Depot and the Families of the Fallen. For 13 years, Tatoian has assisted USO Delaware with countless programs and currently serves as the Chairman of the Advisory Council for the organization.

Long: A soldier he never knew inspired a NASCAR track executive to do more

U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter (R) stands at attention while a U.S. Army carry team moves the transfer case of U.S. Army Master Sgt. Joshua L. Wheeler during a dignified transfer at Dover Air Force Base on Oct. 24, 2015 in Dover, Delaware. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
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No mournful horns or soulful strings play. Silence pervades. Brief commands, boots pounding pavement, and, in some cases, sobbing are all that break the stillness.

The dignified transfer of a military member’s remains at Dover Air Force Base is a solemn event few will ever see in person. Nine years after Mike Tatoian witnessed one, the memory has not faded.

“It was a life-changing event,’’ he said.

The president of Dover International Speedway since has observed the dignified transfer annually. He returns to feel the pain, pay respects and continue a quest that started when a soldier he did not know moved Tatoian in ways he could not imagine.

The military’s ties to NASCAR are deeply ingrained from sponsorships and flyovers to pre-race pageantry and tributes. At Dover, it’s more personal. The track and base are close neighbors in Delaware’s capitol city of 37,000.

Dover Air Force Base personnel aid in security at the track during race weekends and the Firefly Music Festival. Groups from the base volunteer race weekends to cook and sell food or assist in the hospitality village. The track makes a donation to each group.

Dover International Speedway’s food and beverage department has assisted in organizing a Christmas Eve dinner for troops on the base the past 10 years. The track donates tickets to the USO with many given to active military at the base.

Tatoian, chairman of the Advisory Council for USO Delaware, also has sought to integrate his staff at the track with base personnel through programs or visits. It helps track employees better understand what takes place on the base, which is home to more than 6,000 military personnel and about 5,000 family members.

Tatoian was learning about the base when he witnessed a dignified transfer nine years ago. Dover Air Force Base is home to the only U.S.-based mortuary dedicated to fallen military. Every military member killed in a theatre of operation is sent to Dover before being shipped to a final destination.

After the plane arrives at the base, white-gloved personnel typically from the same service as the fallen carry the transfer case to a waiting vehicle. The remains are transported to the port mortuary to prepare the fallen to be returned to their family.

The transfer is brief but provides time to contemplate, life, death, dedication, service and many other issues often ignored or overlooked in one’s daily regimen where the biggest issues can be work, traffic or paying bills.

“Everybody knows that it’s their brother or sister that they’ve just lost,’’ Tatoian said. “I think that’s where I was kind of overcome with, the amount of respect. It’s really moving and impactful thing to see.’’

The most recent dignified transfer took place Jan. 8 for Army Staff Sgt. Matthew Q. McClintock, who died from wounds suffered in an attack on his unit in Afghanistan. There were 54 dignified transfers at the base in 2015. In 2010, there were 551.

Seeing one can be overpowering.

“You’re so emotionally exhausted,’’ said Tatoian, whose father served in the Marine Corps during the Korean War. “I couldn’t stop thinking about it (driving home). I talked to my wife about it. It felt as though I knew who was brought home. That really was the day where I said, ‘All right, I never served, I’m not going to be able to, what are the things that I can do now to help serve those that are serving us, knowing that they’re putting it on the line for us.’

“The other thing I remember standing there, during the silence was probably nobody in the United States had any idea what was happening  … yet this young man was somewhere doing something to help everyone in the United States and now he’s coming home in a transfer case.

“Then you start to go through the different emotions of not getting frustrated, but darn it, these men and women and their families, they’re sacrificing for us. Everybody needs to know that and appreciate it. Honestly, I probably didn’t as much that day and after that day it just changed. That’s why I’m knee deep into things I’m doing because I want people to appreciate what these men and women are doing for us.’’

Tatoian increased his involvement in USO Delaware, which provides, among many programs, ways for troops to stay connected with families while on deployment, support groups for families and troops and food for the Fisher House for Families of the Fallen.

The 8,426-square foot home at the Dover Air Force Base provides temporary housing for families there to attend a dignified transfer. The home has a private suite and common areas such as a kitchen, living room, dining room and others.

As Tatoian went through the home one time with track employees, they walked into a room filled with toys for children.

For as much as witnessing a dignified transfer impacted him, Tatoian knows it does not compare to what the families experience. Entering the room with the toys made what happens with a dignified transfer more personal to Tatoian and his staff.

Gary Camp, senior director of communications at the track and a father of two young girls, was stopped by what he saw in that room.

On the chalkboard, a message in a child’s writing remained.

“You’ll always be my dad.’’