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One of Our Valley's Bravest and his family cherish once in a lifetime experience

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Courtesy Pure Michigan / Weber Shandwick Courtesy Pure Michigan / Weber Shandwick
Courtesy Pure Michigan / Weber Shandwick Courtesy Pure Michigan / Weber Shandwick
Courtesy Pure Michigan / Weber Shandwick Courtesy Pure Michigan / Weber Shandwick
Courtesy Pure Michigan / Weber Shandwick Courtesy Pure Michigan / Weber Shandwick

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio- One of our Valley's Bravest and his family are cherishing a dream come true.

Army veteran and Purple Heart recipient Dave Balestrino Jr. was the honorary starter of the Pure Michigan 400 Nascar race over the weekend.

Dave waved the green flag in honor of his six-year-old son Brady who he didn't get to see while serving in Iraq.

Dave, his wife Abbie and their two children are big racing fans and watch the races every weekend but this past Sunday, their eldest son Brady got to be in the stand with his mom and dad above the race track. Their three-year-old son Dominic was too young for the experience. Brady said that the day was cool.

"Seeing Richard Petty, seeing all the drivers and it takes your breath away when cars go under you (at the flag stand)," said Brady. Brady also said "it looks much faster" in person than on TV. 

Dave said "Just having those cars go full speed underneath you it literally takes the breath out of you. They're going 200 miles an hour underneath you, over 200 miles an hour, just being able to smell it and you're actually getting hit with pieces of rubber when you're in the stand from the tires. It's just unexplainable. It was insane."

The best part for Dave was seeing Brady's face light up each time one of the driver's came up on stage and shook Brady's hand.

"It was really awesome. All the drivers were great and for Brady it was a once in a lifetime opportunity and he was so happy the whole day he just smiled from ear to ear. He was definitely a happy little boy," said Dave.

The family was part of the drivers' meeting plus Dave and Brady shook every driver's hand during the driver introductions. Dave also stood next to country superstar Luke Bryan and chatted with him on stage.

They got to talk to their favorite driver-Kasey Kahne- who also signed Brady's hat.

"It was definitely something that my whole family will remember forever. We still have it on DVR, we watch it and we all smile about it and he (Brady) talks about it all the time still. It was definitely something that brought our family close together and something we'll cherish forever."

___________________

August 14, 2013

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio - One of our Valley's Bravest will be waving the green flag at a Nascar race in Michigan this weekend. This Purple Heart recipient will be doing this in honor of a special someone.

Army veteran and Purple Heart recipient Dave Balestrino Jr. saw his first born son Brady in 2006 for only two weeks before the Youngstown native had to go back overseas to serve in Iraq for a year.

"It was really hard to watch your first and only son at that time grow up in pictures and on camcorder DVDS. It's not like you could talk to him on the phone, he was so young. Just not being able to be there and do things that parents do with their children. It was the hardest thing I've ever done," he said.

To honor his son's sacrifice, Dave entered a Facebook contest to wave the green flag at the Pure Michigan 400 Nascar race for Brady this weekend.

"I would like to repay my son for his sacrifices also for being gone for the first year of his life."

Dave won with more than 800 votes, so now the whole family is headed to the Michigan International Speedway. The trip includes a pace car ride and a chance to attend the drivers meeting.

Brady said "I want to see my dad wave the green flag."  When asked if his dad was his hero Brady said "yeah."

Dave's job in Iraq was to check for IEDs with a metal detector type of vehicle as a combat engineer. He was wounded by a roadside bomb and received the Purple Heart.

Now he and his family's sacrifices will also be honored during a nationally televised race.

"He's (Brady) really going to have a lot of fun. He's a big fan of racing and it's just awesome that I was able to get this honor and  I just want to say thanks to everybody that took the time you know went out and voted for my story and shared my story to make a dream come true for my son and I."

You can watch the race Sunday at 1 p.m. on ESPN.

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