Below is a re-post of a story from our colleagues at USAFE. General Roger A. Brady, USAFE Commander, writes about the bigger picture from a visit to NASCAR.
COMUSAFE visits NASCAR
by General Roger A. Brady
I must admit I was never much a fan of NASCAR. I had glimpsed the sport while surfing channels, but it always just appeared to me to be a herd of cars all packed together making left hand turns and a lot of noise. When finding myself in a conversation that drifted toward NASCAR, I would usually say, “I don’t get it”.
Of course, I have known for a number of years that our Air Force sponsors NASCAR and several other sports to increase public awareness of our mission and aid in recruiting young Americans who may want to serve with us. NASCAR is attractive to many, young and not so young, who like speed, technology, and high-end competition. But, since I didn’t really “get it”, I had never taken the opportunity to represent the Air Force at a NASCAR race. That changed on Sunday, 16 August when I represented the Air Force at the Michigan International Speedway.
My staff arranged this opportunity with the Air Force Recruiting Service after I said, “I guess I ought to do this once”.
The impressions of that day at the race are indelible. I was met at the track just before 9 a.m. by Airmen from the recruiting service and taken into the infield to the area where preparations by all the drivers and crews were well underway for the 2 p.m. race. Many fans who had purchased access to the infield were also there.
First and foremost, NASCAR fans are incredibly patriotic. My aide de camp, Captain Denise Shea, and I were constantly stopped by fans of all ages who wanted to shake our hands, have their picture taken with us, and thank us for our service. It was humbling.
Many had served in the military themselves, while others said, “I never served but I have tremendous appreciation for those who do”. I reminded them that their hard-earned tax money pays our salary and makes it possible for us to do what we do.
I also found that the NASCAR community, organizers, drivers, pit crews, etc., know and respect our NCOs and Officers from the Recruiting Service who work with them on a daily basis throughout the long NASCAR season. They are an accepted part of the NASCAR family.
As I spent time with the men and women who haul the race cars and equipment from race to race, the pit crews, mechanics, engineers, the crew chiefs and drivers, I saw attributes of this sport that are very much like our Air Force.
Our Air Force is currently affiliated with the Richard Petty Racing Team, and I had the honor of meeting Mr Petty, arguably the founder and certainly a legend in NASCAR. He is totally engaged, very friendly, and passionate about this sport which is also a huge business.
I got a very real sense from everyone we talked to that success is the result of a team functioning at maximum capacity, and it is ALL ABOUT THE TEAM. The drivers may be the “rock stars” of the sport, but they more than anyone know that their success is a function of the team.
One driver was apologetic about having scraped the wall during practice trials the day before, causing the crew a very long night repairing the car for the race. The crew was just as quick to say, “not a problem, if you weren’t pushing the limits, we wouldn’t be very happy with you.” They support each other, are quick to critique their own performance and hold each other accountable. Just like in our Air Force.
In fact, I met several members of the team who were former Air Force NCOs, and they all expressed appreciation for how their Air Force experience had contributed to their success as members of a NASCAR team.
Part of the day’s activity included the mandatory meeting of all drivers and crew chiefs. It was very much like a crew briefing we conduct before a mission. There was a very, very strong emphasis on safety, and the “rules of engagement” for safely getting into and out of pit row for pit stops and how to conduct themselves under “caution flags” were discussed in detail.
The meeting concluded with a prayer by a chaplain and best wishes for a safe race. I felt very much at home.
In my conversation with Mr Petty and Reed Sorenson, the driver of #43 car that we sponsor, I got the very straightforward message that they respect our Air Force and its people, and that having the Air Force logo on their car means they have to represent the high standards to which we hold ourselves. Much like how we feel when we wear the “U.S.” on our service dress and have U.S. Air Force on our ABUs.
As I stood beside Reed Sorenson’s mother, a four-ship of A-10s from the Michigan ANG passed overhead and she said, “seeing your airplanes overhead always takes my breath away.” Me too.
I don’t know that you’ll find me regularly attending every NASCAR race near me for the rest of my life, but this brief experience was a poignant reminder that there are thousands, millions of Americans who respect and appreciate us, our institution and our mission.
I was also privileged to meet some great folks who, like ourselves, are passionately involved in a very high-end enterprise that requires the highest level of selfless commitment to the team and the mission to be both safe and successful, and who understand the responsibility associated with attaching yourself to a values-driven organization with a lofty mission.
Bottomline: there’s a lot of good stuff to learn at a NASCAR event. Many thanks to the proud professionals of our Air Force Recruiting Service for providing me this opportunity!!
Roger A. Brady General
U.S. Air Forces in Europe