But every so often, the grand marshal is an individual who's not a household name, who's faced the challenges life put before them and like the drivers on the track, came out ahead. This describes Terry "Mr. 500" Green, the grand marshal for Sunday's Emory Healthcare 500 Sprint Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
With a nickname like "Mr. 500," Green must have seemed like the perfect man for the job. But the nickname originally had nothing to do with racing and everything to do with Green's second chance at life.
In March 2008, the Lawrenceville, Ga., native became the 500th patient at Atlanta's Emory University Hospital to receive a heart transplant.
Green was stricken by a severe heart attack while on a cruise in the Caribbean with his wife. He was stabilized aboard the ship and onshore (coincidentally by doctors who had studied at the Emory University School of Medicine), but the outlook was dire. Before Green was transported to Georgia for treatment at Emory, a local cardiologist had told his wife he only had about a day left to live and to start making funeral arrangements.
"It was a very special feeling to have a new chance at life because of my heart transplant, and the fact that I was also the 500th person to receive a new heart at Emory was extra special," Green said in a press release.
In fact, Green can make the unique claim of being "born twice" at the same hospital. Green underwent the procedure to receive a new heart at Emory nearly 61 years to the day he was born in the hospital, which no longer delivers babies.
"To be named the grand marshal for the Emory Healthcare 500, an event that is such an incredible show, and means so much to Georgia and the Atlanta metropolitan area each year, is beyond a special surprise – it is an honor," Green said.
Atlanta's Labor Day weekend Sprint Cup event marks the first race sponsored by Emory Healthcare. When it came time for Emory and speedway officials to select a grand marshal for the 500-mile race, "Mr. 500" immediately came to mind.
"We were all very familiar with Terry's incredible story, and since his transplant a few years ago, he has befriended Emory in many ways as one of our best known ambassadors," said Diane Peterson, chief operating officer for Emory University Hospital Midtown, in a prepared statement. "Once everyone quickly agreed that 'Mr. 500' should undoubtedly be our guy to officially start the engines Sunday night, the only question left was, 'Is he a race car fan?'"
Indeed Green is. As for who he roots for, he won a scale model car of past Atlanta winner and current points leader Kevin Harvick in a contest at a car dealership. "I've been following and rooting for him ever since," Green said.
Sunday's race will be Green's first in person, and no doubt one he won't forget.
See "Mr. 500" say the most famous words in motorsports on Sunday when coverage of the Emory Healthcare 500 starts at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN.