PHOENIX — NASCAR returns to the track Sunday at Darlington, a significant step in the sports-less world we've been living in for the past nine weeks.
"It is a huge morale boost to have any sports back on TV," said Misty Brooks.
She would know. Brooks is an ER nurse at Banner Estrella Medical Center, on the frontlines in the fight against COVID-19.
"I'm in the room with patients, donning, and doffing all of our PPE and treating the patients. It's just been incredible to see everybody come together, and what we've learned and how we've come together as a group to treat the patients."
To pay tribute to the many health care workers, NASCAR renamed Sunday's race "The Real Heroes 400 at Darlington Raceway."
In addition, the spot above the driver's side window that usually has the driver's name will be replaced by a health care worker's battling the pandemic. Tucson native Alex Bowman's number 88 car will represent Arizona with Brooks' name on it.
"I was floored, humbled and honored just to be nominated," Brooks said. "I had no idea what it would actually entail to be picked."
In addition to her name on Bowman's car, Brooks will also serve as a grand marshall with the other nominated healthcare workers.
"I want to say that this is like a dream come true, but I never knew that this was a possibility. It was never a dream, but this is even more than that, it's incredible."
Brooks is a Flagstaff native who's been working at Banner Estrella for three years, and when NASCAR was looking for nominees in the Valley, it didn't take long to find the right one.
"I have been a NASCAR fan since 1994-95 when I went to my first race as a teenager," she said. "I spend my couple weeks a year out at the NASCAR track. We hang out with friends, we have our NASCAR family."
Brooks has spent her last ten birthdays at the race in November, and of course, she was at Phoenix Raceway two months ago, the final NASCAR race held before the crisis.
"Here in March, I was just excited to get my picture with Michael Waltrip, and now my name is on a car. It's unbelievable."
Brooks says she was a Dale Earnhardt Sr. fan, and then naturally became a Dale Jr. fan. Already in the market for a new favorite driver, she says Bowman may have just taken that role.
More than anything, she is thankful for the opportunity, and the gesture, NASCAR and others are showing for the healthcare workers.
"We are incredibly grateful and appreciative," Brooks said. "We're doing our jobs, we're working as hard as we can to take care of people, and just to be recognized for that, it feels so great."