Gov. Mike Easley will take the wheel of Casey Mears' No. 25 National Guard/GMAC "American Heroes" Car Saturday (May 19) to raise money for the North Carolina National Guard Family Readiness Program. The Governor, who will race a few laps around the track prior to the start of the NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord, has already received numerous pledges for the program from private donors.

"The men and women in the North Carolina National Guard make significant sacrifices being overseas serving our country," said Easley. "Their families feel their sacrifice and our National Guard Family Readiness Program helps out with such things as car repairs, late mortgage payments, or things that families with an unexpected drop in income would experience. I am asking every citizen and business to join in giving a little bit back during race week."

Major contributions have already been pledged by the N.C Bankers Association, Progress Energy, Speedway Motorsports and Hendrick Motorsports.

Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports who has made a pledge to the Guard, said: "We certainly encourage the enrie NASCAR community to support our National Guard and we hope the great people of North Carolina will do the same."

Humpy Wheeler, President and General Manager of Lowe's Motor Speedway, said: "Gov. Easley is the world's fastest governor and Saturday he will prove it on the track and raise awareness for a very worthy program to support our National Guard."

The North Carolina National Guard Family Readiness Program assists members of the National Guard and their families by providing programs, comprehensive information and referral services on a variety of family-related programs and services, particularly when guard families face the stress of extended foreign deployments. Services include crisis intervention, financial management advice, relocation assistance, spouse employment assistance, parenting education and deployment support programs. As a result of the Family Readiness Program, National Guard units increase their readiness and are better able to complete missions because members know that their families are being cared for during their absence.

Donations to the N.C. National Guard Family Readiness Program are being collected through Speedway Children's Charities and can be made online through a special link at:, or through the Office of the Governor web site: Contributions can also be mailed to: North Carolina National Guard Family Readiness Program; P.O. Box 32127; Raleigh, N.C. 27622.

"The North Carolina National Guard Family Readiness Program helps make our military community stronger," said Gen. William Ingram, commander of the N.C. National Guard. "As a result of the hard work, and excellent services the Family Readiness Program provides, the National Guard is able to attract and retain quality guardsmen who serve our state and nation so well."

Operation Kids on Guard is one of the state National Guard Family Readiness Program's most popular initiatives. Inaugurated in North Carolina in 2004, Operation Kids on Guard allows children ages 5 to 18 participate in day and overnight drills to better understand the roles their parents play in the military.

There are about 12,000 members of the North Carolina Army and Air National Guard in 164 units as well as another 10,235 Army, Navy, Marine and Air Force reservists. Since Sept. 11, 2001, more than 10,000 members of the N.C. National Guard have been mobilized in operations Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom and Noble Eagle. Also, during the same time, more than 3,800 members of the guard have been called to duty to respond to hurricanes, floods, ice storms and other disasters.