- Associated Press - Thursday, September 23, 2010

WASHINGTON (AP) - NASCAR drivers Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman and Matt Kenseth all have their moments of angst and frustration over the course of a racing season.

However those lows pale in comparison after visiting members of the U.S. Military on Thursday at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

“Just to see what they’ve lost and what they’ve had to go through and see how high their spirits are still, makes me think of the bad days we have when we are on the track,” Busch said. “None of it compares, anywhere close.”

Busch was among the group of drivers that walked through the hospital wards to meet the wounded soldiers, sign autographs, take pictures and swap stories. For Busch, this was an opportunity to “give back” to those that “have sacrificed so much and have lost quite a bit” and to help “put a smile on their face for an afternoon.”

“What’s so neat about today is getting into the lives of the soldiers and talking with them,” said Busch, who is fifth in the Cup standings. “I forget about what I’m doing for my daily grind.”

David Ragan, Scott Speed, Joe Nemechek and Brad Keselowski, who was making his first visit to Walter Reed, were among the other drivers in attendance. It is NASCAR’s sixth visit to the medical center.

“It’s really something everyone should get to do once,” Keselowski said. “To truly understand what it means to be an American. To truly understand the bigger picture of life. … No matter what problem you’re facing in your life, I can assure you after seeing the things you will see in there, you will feel better about your situation.”

Several of the race cars were also on display for the soldiers, their families and others on the base, including Newman’s U.S. Army-sponsored vehicle.

“Representing over a million soldiers who fight for our freedom is special to me,” Newman said. “What they do and what they have always done and what they will continue to do to give us this free country is special. To be here and representing the U.S. Army has extra meaning in itself.”

The chance to get a closer look at the cars and meet those who drive them was a thrill for many NASCAR fans, including Sgt. Tommy Blackburn, who has been at Walter Reed since June after suffering a fractured neck and taking shrapnel to his side and elbow during his tour in Afghanistan.

“I’m totally excited,” said Blackburn, who added that he was looking to this event for more than a month. “I’ve watched NASCAR since I was little. I never really got to meet drivers before, shake a drivers hand.”

Staff Sgt. Michael Callan, who is based at Walter Reed and serving as a cadre for his fellow soldiers, appreciated the time the drivers took from their hectic schedules to visit.

“You don’t get this stuff every day,” Callan said. “To have these guys visit, not just the wounded warriors but the soldiers as well at Walter Reed, it’s great. You feel special when guys take time out of their busy schedule.”

“These guys work year-round. You might think that they are off (at the end of the season), but they’re not. They barely have any time for their families, kind of like us. That’s what’s good about it. They are still able to take time for us, even after their busy schedule. Yeah, I’ll go to war for that.”

Another participating member of the NASCAR community was Roush Fenway co-owner Jack Roush, who survived a plane crash in late July at the Experimental Aircraft Association’s annual AirVenture.

Roush, who said he has visited Walter Reed multiple times over the years, underwent surgery for facial injuries and has lost vision in his left eye as a result of the crash.

Despite his situation, Roush had no problem finding the proper context for those he was visiting.

“I was enjoying and exercising the freedoms that the guys here have bought and paid for with their injuries,” said Roush, whose stable of drivers include Kenseth and Ragan. “I wouldn’t compare my injuries with the injuries that they have.”