Justin Snyder

Justin Snyder lifts a fellow Army soldier to pose for a photo while stationed in Afghanistan.

Justin Snyder loved his country, and made the ultimate sacrifice on its behalf.

That is his legacy.

During his young life Snyder also loved auto racing, and was hoping to become involved and make an impact on the sport.

Sunday night, Snyder’s legacy and love will be celebrated at Sharon Speedway.  

“Justin Snyder: Salute to the Troops” will take place Sunday, a day after the annual “Lou Blaney Memorial” at the Hartford, Ohio 3/8-mile dirt track.

Tony Stewart’s All-Star Circuit of Champions will highlight the program. Stewart, a friend of the Blaney family, has made numerous prior appearances at Sharon Speedway.

After graduating from Kennedy Catholic High in 2003 Justin matriculated at Thiel College. He enlisted in the United States Army on Dec. 31, 2008. Mere months after his 31st birthday, he passed away April 19, 2016.

“Justin was a highly-decorated combat veteran,” related his proud father, Alan Snyder. “He served fourteen months in Afghanistan (2010-11). He was in the 10th Mountain Division ... they’re trained to fight in the mountains in Afghanistan. They and the Marines are the ‘boots on the ground’ in Afghanistan.”

Although Justin was discharged in November 2012, “He had some injuries – physically and mentally – when he got home ... and he just was never the same,” lamented his father, who later added, “He was a proud member of the Wounded Warrior (Project).”

But as a youngster growing up near Mercer, Justin and his brother Derek were drawn to dirt-track racing.

“Justin found comfort and camaraderie in Sprint Car racing. It was his ‘happy place,’” recalled Derek Snyder.

“I’ve always sponsored (drivers), and we provided pace cars at one time for Mercer Raceway and Sharon Speedway,” Alan Snyder explained. “And we sponsored cars for several years. I have pictures of Derek and Justin at the tracks when they were only five- or six-years-old, havin’ their pictures taken in Victory Lane. So they were born and raised around (racing), I guess.”

After being discharged from the military, Justin relocated to Harrisburg, “ ... ‘cause that’s the ‘Sprint Car Capital of the World,’” the elder Snyder related.

While there, Justin frequented the area track and became a fan of Danny Dietrich III, who hails from the Gettysburg area.

“He loved Sprint car racing ever since he was a kid,” Alan Snyder recalled. “ ... Danny (Dietrich III) was Justin’s favorite driver and a friend, and for a couple years just pestered the heck out of Derek to sponsor him.”

Ultimately, Derek Snyder decided to sponsor Dietrich to honor his brother’s memory.

Sunday night’s show actually will be the 5th installment of the race, which had taken place the past 4 years at Baps Motor Speedway in York Haven, Pa. Dietrich, the late Greg Hodnett, Stewart, and Gerald McIntyre Jr. won the previous quartet of “Snyder’s Salute to the Troops” races.

“Derek and I were wondering what we could do to honor what (Justin) accomplished in the service and ... the good things in his life,” Alan Snyder reflected. “We were thinking a scholarship or something like that, but Justin wasn’t the academic kind. We thought the race and raising funds for the Wounded Warrior Project would be just the perfect healing for us and honor his military career.

“For several years we were a sponsor (at Sharon Speedway),” Alan Snyder explained. “We were an associate sponsor of Lou for a few years, but he was a personal friend of our family. We just thought it was perfect timing to have the race local. ... It’s going to enable more of our friends and family members, locally, to be able to attend it.

“And we feel very honored that the Blaney family will allow us to have it the night after the Lou Blaney Memorial ‘cause he was an idol of mine ever since I was a kid,” Alan Snyder added.

Following his brother’s passing, Derek Snyder related, “From there we are left to ask ourselves, ‘What can we do to better serve our nation’s post-service veterans?’ Service veterans – and sometimes, most distinctly, combat veterans – have a difficult time getting re-acclimated to civilian life, sometimes even feeling alienated from the very country they fought and sacrificed for.

“The Armed Forces community maintains its own creed. It’s a creed remarkably difficult to understand by those who have not served,” Derek Snyder continued. “We want those veterans to know there are options and ways to seek support from those who do understand that creed. One of those options is the Wounded Warrior Project. Founded by veterans ... it positions itself with veterans to support those in need, including their families. It provides help through independent, peer and family support including combat stress recovery services to help those struggling both physically and/or emotionally as they strive to adjust and integrate back into civilian life.”

Sunday’s program will begin at 7 p.m. (gates open 3 p.m.). Ticket prices range from $25 (general admission and reserved) to $35 (pit passes). Youngsters 13-U will be admitted free. Also, military veterans (with proper ID) will receive a $10 discount for general admission tickets. The $6,000-to-win All Star Circuit of Champions Sprint Cars and $600-to-win RUSH Sprints will be featured.

The elder Snyder said Stewart’s all-stars “race about 80 times a year across the country. ... Tony Stewart has been a very good friend of the Blaney family. He’s been over at Sharon several times. ... My son Derek has a real good association with Tony Stewart and the All-Stars, and he wanted to keep it an all-star race,” Alan Snyder continued.

Justin’s memory will be honored. The Reynolds VFW will present the American flag’s colors, including a 21-gun salute, and will perform Taps, Alan Snyder said.

“Justin was just 31 years of age when he left us – a young man by many standards,” his brother noted. “We are left to ask what may have been for Justin and so many others that have left us too soon. As we salute Justin and the countless others who have struggled once separated from military life, let’s all consider what we could do to assist those who have selflessly served our nation. It may be something as simple as ‘hello,’ or an act of kindness; perhaps ... a charitable contribution. At this time we ask that we all be conscious and generous in our support of these veterans.”

“We’re honoring all veterans from all divisions (of the military),” Alan Snyder emphasized. “We didn’t want to call it a ‘memorial,’ because that’s too final. We wanted to call it a ‘Salute to the Troops’ to honor everyone who sacrificed.

“It’s an emotional night for us,” Alan Snyder admitted, pausing before continuing, “I was very proud of his service in Afghanistan, for which he was highly decorated. I was most proud of his medal for the War on Terrorism.”

In his obituary, Justin Snyder was remembered for having “defined in every aspect of what it sincerely meant to be a son, brother, and uncle. He was a proud retired combat veteran of the United States Army. ... Justin’s exuberant laugh, and compassionate smile were all words people close to Justin would use to describe him.

“He had a heart of gold and was admired as a protector of everyone that was considered close to him. He had one life lesson to proclaim: ‘It’s not about how much money you have in this world, but the friends and family you make along the way. Do the best you can with everything you have.’ And that’s how he lived each day of his life.”