DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.—U.S. military veteran Paul Siverson took flight Feb. 22 aboard one of Goodyear's iconic airships with a very special guest pilot.
Goodyear teamed up Dale Earnhardt Jr., one of NASCAR's most recognizable drivers, and Siverson for the flight, which honored Siverson's service to his country and his commitment to serving combat veterans. Donning a Goodyear Blimp pilot uniform, Earnhardt Jr. settled in behind the controls and surprised Siverson once the blimp had taken flight.
"This was such a cool day—being able to co-pilot the Goodyear Blimp and connect with a fan who has so honorably served our country," Earnhardt Jr. said in a news release. "I'm proud to be involved with Goodyear. Ever since we started working together, I've wanted to ride in the blimp, so this was a great experience that I will never forget."
It also was an unforgettable experience for Siverson, a New York native who now lives in North Carolina. Having the chance to fly in the blimp was a rare opportunity for Siverson, but having the chance to meet Earnhardt Jr., whom Siveron calls his "first-, second- and third-favorite" NASCAR driver, was even sweeter.
Siverson dedicated 30 years of his life to the Marine Corps, enlisting right out of high school and serving through the Vietnam and Gulf wars.
"I always wanted to be a Marine," Siverson said in a Goodyear video. "I came in for two years and stayed for 30, I tell people. … I consider it an honor to be able to serve for as long as I did."
Siverson's service to his country didn't end when he traded his military career for civilian life. He continues to give back by supporting his fellow servicemen and servicewomen in North Carolina through NCServes Coastal, a network of public, private and nonprofit organizations dedicated to military veterans and their families.
Through its partner agencies and organizations, NCServes helps to meet a variety of needs and supports veterans in areas such as benefits, clothing, housing, education, employment, healthcare, legal services and spiritual services.
"It's our way to give back to America's military," Siverson said, noting that he works for a counseling center that supports combat veterans. "What is satisfying is when they come back later on and shake their hand and say thanks."
In addition to providing Siverson with the once-in-a-lifetime blimp flight, Goodyear also supported his counseling efforts by providing a $10,000 donation to NCServes.
"The donation that the Goodyear family gave to NC Serves is going to greatly help our efforts to reach out veterans," Siverson said.
This weekend, Earnhardt Jr. returns to the race track after an 18-race hiatus during which time he was recovering from a concussion. He is seeking his third Daytona 500 victory. The race will air at 2 p.m. on Fox-TV and Sirius XM NASCAR Radio.