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Rumsfeld Joins in NASCAR Salute to Armed Forces

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

RICHMOND, Va., Sept. 12, 2004 – If it weren't for the motorcade, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld would have been just another race fan driving into the Richmond International Raceway here Sept. 11.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld joined Army race team driver Joe Nemechek and members of the race team on Pit Road as part of his participation in NASCAR's salute to the military in Richmond, Va., Sept. 11. The Army team presented Rumsfeld with a personalized crew shirt. Photo by Samantha L. Quigley
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But the secretary had a greater purpose than an evening at the races. Rumsfeld attended the Chevy Rock 'n' Roll 400 on the third anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks as part of a NASCAR salute to the men and women serving in the armed forces.

Rumsfeld took it all in stride, shaking hands and chatting his way into the NASCAR drivers meeting, where he briefly addressed the drivers, crew chiefs and media. After joking that the first NASCAR race he attended -- in 1948 -- probably was before many of the drivers' time, he wished them well in the night's competition.

Through the garages and out on to Pit Road, the secretary accepted the compliments tossed at him from the fans and stopped to chat with servicemembers wandering throughout the crowd.

On Pit Road, Rumsfeld posed for pictures with the Army racing team and the No. 1 racecar. Against the roar of car generators, he accepted a personalized Army pit crew shirt. Crewmembers and servicemembers also waited to talk with him alongside the No. 16 Air Force car and the No. 21 National Guard car.

Rumsfeld needed only to smile and wave to earn a standing ovation from the crowd as he was introduced.

In a brief statement, Rumsfeld expressed his gratitude to the crowd. "It's a privilege to be here on this third anniversary of Sept. 11," Rumsfeld said as he thanked the fans for their support.

A second ovation and chants of "USA" had to be quieted before he could lead the capacity crowd of 107,000 fans in the Pledge of Allegiance. With the singing of the national anthem by recording artist Kylie Dean and a flyover by four F-16s from the 192nd Fighter Wing of the Virginia Air National Guard, the pre-race festivities came to a close.

Rumsfeld wrapped his participation with two laps in a Chevy Monte Carlo pace car before heading to the NASCAR skybox to watch the race.

While the military race teams wanted to win one for the troops, it wasn't in the stars. The Army car finished 22nd, the Air Force car came in 21st and the National Guard car ended up right where it started, in eighth place.

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Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld

Click photo for screen-resolution imageDefense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld leads the crowd of 107,000 NASCAR fans in the Pledge of Allegiance just before the start of Sept. 11's Chevy Rock 'n' Roll 400 at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway. Recording artist Kylie Dean sang the national anthem. Rumsfeld is flanked by Rev. Todd Combee, pastor of New Bethesda Church in Mechanicsville, Va., left, and tenor Ronan Tynan, who sang "God Bless America."  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageSecretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld meets with the car crew for the Air National Guard, driven by Greg Biffle car #16, during the Chevy Rock & Rock 400 NASCAR Nextel Cup Series race while at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway on Sept. 11, 2004. Rumsfeld was raceway to thank the fans for their military support. Photo by Master Sgt. James M. Bowman, USAF  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageSecretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld waves to fans while in the pace car during the Chevy Rock & Rock 400 NASCAR Nextel Cup Series, Richmond (Va.) International Raceway on Sept. 11, 2004. Rumsfeld was at track to thank the fans for their military support. Photo by Master Sgt. James M. Bowman, USAF  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageSecretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, center, receives an Army T-Shirt from Army Master Sergeant Preston and John Nemechek, driver for the Army race car #01, during the Chevy Rock & Rock 400 NASCAR Nextel Cup Series race while at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway on Sept. 11, 2004. Photo by Master Sgt. James M. Bowman, USAF  
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