NASCAR to Honor Henry Ford Health System Staff

May 14, 2020
henry ford hospital nurses and Dr. Daizo Tanaka

Names to be Displayed on Rochester Hills’ Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson Racecars

DETROIT – The names of two Henry Ford Health System nurses will be displayed on the cars of two of NASCAR’s top drivers at the race on Sunday as part of a salute to healthcare workers and first responders.

NASCAR has named 36 doctors, nurses and EMTs ‘Honorary Grand Marshal’ for Sunday’s race. Martina Symons, 28, of Livonia, an ICU nurse at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, and Mike Palmer, 37, of Walled Lake, an emergency department nurse at Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital, are participating. The two healthcare workers were chosen randomly – and for their Motor City-bred love of cars and NASAR – to represent all healthcare workers.

Rochester Hills native Brad Keselowski will display Symons’ name just above his driver’s door handle. Sunday. Top NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson – who had reached out to Palmer in a surprise Zoom call a few weeks ago – will display Palmer’s name on his.

“Teamwork has helped us collectively come together and figure out how best to care for our patients who are very, very sick,” said Symons, whose ICU flipped to a COVID-19 unit when the pandemic hit. “It came so fast, we were making daily decisions on how to provide the best care. To be honored by NASCAR, where teamwork is crucial, is a sweet honor to share with everyone who has been working in healthcare and on the front lines.”

Symons and Palmer will be part of the iconic “Drivers, start your engines!” declaration at the 3:30 p.m. start of Sunday’s race, which will take place shortly after the pre-race show begins at 3 p.m. on Fox 2.

The pair will also be part of social media shout-outs by their drivers, who were posting videos at 7 p.m. today coinciding with a widespread practice nationally of banging pots and pans in support of frontline responders.

Growing up in the Motor City, Symon said her love of cars and racing developed by attending car shows with her family. Her family is filled with NASCAR fans, and it's a family affair to watch the races. That makes being away from her family due to COVID-19 even more poignant.

NASCAR is also experiencing separation – from fans. Sunday’s race will be held without fans at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina. The race – the first in two months since the COVID-19 pandemic hit – will serve as the first of seven races over an 11-day span at two different racetracks throughout May. The races are all within driving distance of North Carolina race shops in the Charlotte area to minimize travel and time spent in a community. The May 17 race is a 400-miler, scheduled for 3:30 p.m. ET, live on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Palmer was surprised when Johnson’s representatives reached out to him for the salute. Johnson specifically requested Palmer after surprising him on a Zoom call in April, thanking him for his sacrifice and especially being separated from his 9-year-old son, Mikey, due to COVID-19. On Mike Tirico’s NBC’s sports show “Lunch Talk Live,” Johnson said he was amazed at the dedication and compassion of healthcare workers. He also invited Palmer and his family to join him and driver Kevin Harvick at a future race at Bristol Motor Speedway in Tennessee.

Palmer said he’s grateful for the appreciation, especially on behalf of his coworkers at Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital.

“Working with them over the past seven weeks has been a blessing,” Palmer said. “If I was going to go through a pandemic with anybody, it would be the people I work with. It’s been very humbling and an honor and blessing.”

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Media contact: Sal Giacona / sgiacon1@hfhs.org / 313-421-9108