When retired Marine Sgt. Jeff Kyle walked through the gates of Globe Life Park Thursday, he thought he was there simply to watch the Texas Rangers play. But the team and representatives from NASCAR's Brickyard 400 race had other plans for him.
"This, everything is a surprise," said Kyle, who lives in Waco.
Once he arrived, Rangers officials told Kyle to warm up because he was going to throw the game's ceremonial first pitch, which he threw right over home plate.
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Then as Kyle stood on the mound, the stadium's public address announcer dropped an even bigger surprise. Kyle had won a nationwide contest to have the Brickyard 400 named after him.
"My whole body is shaking," said Kyle. "I'm overwhelmed. There's a lot to take in right now and I don't think it's all sunk in quite yet."
A friend of Kyle's nominated him for the "Your Hero's Name Here" contest, which Brickyard 400 title sponsor, Crown Royal, holds each year to honor heroes in America's communities. Finalists are selected and the public chooses a winner.
"This was a great opportunity for us, with Crown Royal, to really celebrate why we're free and can race on Sundays," said Doug Boles, president of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where the Brickyard 400 takes place. "They don't do what they do to become heroes. They do what they do because they know it's the right thing to do."
Boles said Kyle is a deserving winner for multiple reasons. While he was in the military, he was deployed to Iraq twice and served overseas in several other countries. Since retiring, he's spent his time working with multiple organizations that help disabled veterans.
"There's some government deals in place to help veterans, but not enough," said Kyle. "We take care of our own."
A humble Kyle said he hardly felt deserving of the honor, but that he was "extremely grateful."
"Just seeing the smile on his face and seeing the excitement from his family means a whole lot," said Boles.
The Jeff Kyle 400 will take place on July 26 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Kyle said he's looking forward to attending his first NASCAR race.
Military service runs deep in Kyle's family. He's the younger brother of "American Sniper" Chris Kyle.