By Christopher Selmek
NASCAR drivers participating in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 24 will carry the names of fallen service members across the windshield of each car as part of a Memorial Day remembrance that will include the name of Philip Lee Grieser, a Champaign County service member killed in action in Vietnam 51 years ago.
Phil Grieser’s name will be carried on the No. 1 GEARWRENCH Chevrolet, driven by NASCAR star Kurt Busch
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Phillip Grieser, a Champaign County service member killed in action in Vietnam 51 years ago, will have his name on the No. 1 GEARWRENCH Chevrolet, driven by NASCAR star Kurt Busch during the 600 Miles of Remembrance program that NASCAR runs annually on Memorial Day weekend.
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during the 600 Miles of Remembrance program that NASCAR runs each year on Memorial Day weekend.
Grieser grew up just east of Christiansburg and graduated from Graham High School.
“Quite a few years ago NASCAR started honoring fallen soldiers on the race that was held on Memorial Day, which is the Coca-Cola 600,” said Mark Grieser. “My brother was killed 51 years ago on May 18, 1969, and his commanding officer in Vietnam, where he was killed, is still alive and lives out on the west coast. His son just happened to work for Chip Ganassi Racing, which has two cars I think. The father asked his son ‘how come I’ve never seen Phil’s name on any of the cars on Memorial Day?’ And Doug, that’s his son, said ‘dad, I don’t know, but I’ll ask some questions.’ So he went back to the Chip Ganassi Racing and he asked the PR guy what we have to do to get Phil’s name on there. They said they would work on it, and this was about this time last summer, and we got notes here a month ago that it’s all fallen into place and Phil’s name is going to be across the windshield of the Kurt Busch car, the number one car.”
The 600 Miles of Remembrance NASCAR Cup Series was created to honor and remember the men and women who gave their lives in active duty service defending the country. Fallen service members will be honored by featuring their names on the windshield of each NASCAR Cup Series car during the Memorial Day Weekend race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, according to media representative Jeff Dowling. The program highlights service members who have died in service to America, and Dowling said that ideally the driver and/ or team have a personal connection to the service member through a family member or hometown.
The car was painted on Wednesday. Although Grieser said he does not plan to be present for the race, he and nine other family members - including three daughters and their children - are traveling to North Carolina for the weekend to take some photos with the car and meet a representative of the FOX network.
Mark is the last surviving brother of Phil, as middle brother Wayne passed away from cancer about 10 years ago. Mark did not himself choose to serve in the military, and said he had few clear memories of his brother because he was in sixth grade when his brother was killed at 24.
“When he left in ’65 I was 6-7 years old,” Mark said of his brother. “My memories were of the summers when he was in the Navy stationed in California, so up through my seventh grade in school, I’d go out to California in the summer time and spend a month with him out there. We did a lot of things and he took me a lot of places out there.”
Phil became a U.S. Navy Seabee, a member of the U.S. Naval Construction Force, and died on his third tour to Vietnam during the war.
“He graduated from high school in ’64, we lived on a dairy farm and in ’65 is when he left for the Navy,” Mark said. “He was in his fourth year of the Navy. That was his third, eight-month hitch in Vietnam, he had 22 more days left in ‘Nam and he had 40 days left in the Navy, he was going to be out, so he almost was done with the Navy. He was going to come back and take over the dairy farm.”
Mark said that when he was at home, Phil was the responsible brother and always made sure that the chores were taken care of.
Christopher Selmek can be reached at 937-508-2304