Spirit of America

Spirit of America strong at MIS

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Kevin Gregory is a man of his word. In the six years he has worked at Michigan International Speedway, he has never participated in the racetrack’s Spirit of America blood drive.  

That streak ended Friday. 

Gregory, who oversees the speedway’s August NASCAR weekend concert, made a deal with MIS colleague Tim Booth that he would finally participate in this year’s blood drive if Booth attended the concert for at least four songs.  

“He’s always so busy after the race that he never has time to attend the concert,” Gregory said of Booth, director of Guest Services for MIS. “So I made a deal with him that if he found time to attend the concert for just four songs, I would give blood.” 

Booth made good on the agreement, so Gregory set his appointment to donate Friday during the Spirit of America Blood Drive at MIS, the nation’s largest 9-11 blood drive. It was the first time Gregory had ever donated blood.  

“It wasn’t bad at all,” Gregory said. “About an hour of my time is all it took for me to provide a gift which could save someone’s life. And I got Tim Booth to our concert, so we both won.”  

For Booth, he sees the gentlemen’s agreement as a win for the countless people who benefit every day from blood donation. Each unit of blood can be transfused to up to three people so in the seven years since its inception, nearly 15,000 lives have been saved from the 4,916 units of blood collected during the Spirit of America blood drive.    

The blood drive has almost tripled in size since it began in 2002, and 2009 was on track to continue that growth. By the start of the blood drive at 8 a.m., nearly 1,600 appointments to donate blood had been made. The goal was to see 1,200 people. 

In fact, the drive has become so popular that a line had formed early Friday to get a jump on appointments for 2010. 

The Spirit of America blood drive is more than a blood drive to Booth. He founded it, annually organizes it and works tirelessly behind the scenes on every detail, coordinating the event with staff from the Great Lakes Region of the American Red Cross. He organized the blood drive following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. 

“I wanted to do something, so I saw this as an opportunity for individuals to not only pay tribute to our nation’s heroes, but to be heroes themselves,” Booth said.  

A loyal donor himself, Booth has donated more than 18 gallons of blood in his lifetime. It goes without saying that Booth schedules his regular blood donation appointments around the Spirit of America so he can participate in his brainchild.  

One of his favorite aspects of the blood drive is Unity Field, a 3,000-flag tribute for the victims of 9-11 in the speedway’s Lot 10 parking lot. Brooklyn’s American Legion Post 315 and the speedway’s Maintenance Department meticulously place the flags, each representing victims of 9-11. The flags are a somber backdrop to a memorial wall containing each victim’s name. 

Richard Hinkle, 46, of Michigan Center, has participated in every Spirit of America blood drive at MIS.  

“Giving blood at MIS is so unique,” he said. “And there’s always a need for blood donations, so this is one blood drive I will never miss.” 

Gregory won’t either. He has already made his appointment for 2010.

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