DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt will become the first NFL player to give the command to start engines at the Daytona 500 when he serves as Grand Marshal for the 61st running of “The Great American Race” on Sunday at Daytona International Speedway.
“I am honored to have the opportunity to serve as Grand Marshal for this year’s ‘Great American Race,’ ” Watt said. “The Daytona 500 is a truly iconic event with a rich history and I am very much looking forward to taking in the action up close and personal this year.”
A former player of the University of Wisconsin, the three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year became the first player in NFL history to record two 20-plus sack seasons in 2014. Watt also holds the Texans' franchise record for sacks and forced fumbles. In 2017, he was named Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year.
Watt is also well-known for his charity work as the president and founder of the Justin J. Watt Foundation, a charity organization that provides after-school opportunities for children in various communities, and has assisted those who are affected by deadly shootings. Following the events of Hurricane Harvey in 2017, Watt set a goal to raise $200,000 for recovery efforts in the city of Houston, a goal he greatly surpassed by raising more than $41 million, for which he was awarded the prestigious Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award.
“We’re ecstatic to have a person who has shown to be not only an incredible athlete but also somebody who has done so much for communities in need,” said Daytona International Speedway President Chip Wile. “J.J. is one of the best players currently in the NFL and now he’s going to be our Grand Marshal for ‘The Great American Race.’ It’s a spectacular pairing.