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Armed Services Race Teams Qualify Strong, Race for Troops

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

RICHMOND, Va., Sept. 12, 2004 – It didn't matter that only one car finished as strongly as it qualified. The crews of three racecars sponsored by different branches of the military raced for the troops here on the third anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The Army racing team mills around behind the No. 1 car on Pit Road. The car, driven by Joe Nemechek, was fourth in line to pull onto the track. The car finished 22nd in Sept. 11's Chevy Rock 'n' Roll 400 at the Richmond (Va.) International Raceway. Photo by Samantha L. Quigley

(Click photo for screen-resolution image); high-resolution image available.

They qualified fourth, sixth and eighth in a field of 43 for the Chevy Rock 'n' Roll 400 at Richmond International Raceway. They finished 22nd, 21st and eighth, respectively, but all the crews agreed that the meaning of the day put the race in perspective.

"It makes what we do very unimportant," said Jay Frye, general manager of the Army racing team. The No. 1 car, driven by Joe Nemechek, placed 22nd. "It's a special night for us."

Frye said he knows NASCAR has a great many military fans. "Our great troops overseas watch us every weekend, and we'd love to win one for them," he said.

The crew chief of the Air Force race team, Michael McSwain, agreed that it's for the troops. "Me and the team really support everybody in Iraq bigtime," he said. "We need to win it for the Air Force. Somebody in the military (racing teams) needs to win."

While representatives of all three teams expressed support of the troops in Iraq, it was the reason those troops are there that made the race especially poignant. But the ways of dealing with the weighty anniversary were varied.

"We always push back out of our minds what we don't want to remember," said McSwain, whose No. 21 Air Force car, driven by Ricky Rudd, finished 21st after a fourth-place start. "We don't need to forget these things."

Donnie Ratledge, gasman for the No. 16 National Guard car, said he tried not to think about the anniversary. He was trying to stay focused on what he was sure would be a top-five finish by the No. 16 car driven by Greg Biffle, who finished the race in eighth place. "I'll mourn with them tomorrow," Ratledge said. "(The race) is for the soldiers. This is just a small token to them."

While all three cars managed to maintain positions in the top 15 into lap 25, the race got away from them. For Operation Iraqi Freedom I veteran Army Staff Sgt. Shajn Cabrera, that didn't matter. "Every day we get to do something like this is exciting," he said as he watched the commotion from behind the Army racing team's pit area.

Cabrera, who works in the office of the sergeant major of the Army in the Pentagon, said that he and his fellow soldiers love what they do, and that it's not only showing support, but also being shown support that makes events like this race special.

While the team's representatives all said that track position is especially important in this race, they made it very clear that they do what they do for the troops. None of the teams is in the chase for the Nextel Cup.


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Click photo for screen-resolution imageA crewmember works on the No. 16 National Guard racecar Saturday before the Chevy Rock 'n' Roll 400 at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld participated in pre-race activities. Photo by Samantha L. Quigley  
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