Racing Heroes Meet Military Heroes
Airman 1st Class Andrew Layton (center), deployed with 332nd Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron Detachment 3, poses for a photo with Racing Heroes Arie Luyendyk Jr. (right), and Scott Wimmer (left) at a special appearance in an MWR facility at Contingency Operating Base Speicher Dec. 15.

Several professional racing drivers paid a visit to deployed military personnel and fans on Contingency Operating Base (COB) Speicher, near Tikrit Iraq, Dec. 15.

The Racing Heroes Goodwill Tour, an annual event which brings professional racing stars to meet deployed military servicemembers in Iraq and Kuwait, offered excited fans on COB Speicher the opportunity to meet four popular racing heroes.

Geoff Bodine a retired NASCAR veteran, named one of NASCAR's 50 greatest drivers, Scott Wimmer, a NASCAR Nationwide Series driver with 26 top-five finishes in 2008, Hillary Will, a top fuel racer with the International Hot Rod Association, and Arie Luyendyck Jr., a driver with the Indy Racing League, were welcomed at one of Speicher's Morale, Welfare, and Recreation facilities where they signed autographs and took photos with fans.

"I grew up watching the sport with my dad," said Navy Chief Petty Officer Mark Paproski, a long-time NASCAR fan deployed with the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade. "I've been a fan for the better part of 30 years."

Paproski, along with many other excited racing fans, eagerly awaited the arrival of one of his favorite NASCAR drivers, driving legend, Geoff Bodine.

"I was deployed on a ship last year and Geoff Bodine was out visiting us on the ships," said Paproski. "It means a lot to me that they came all the way out here to see us."

Soldiers who were fans were the only ones who appreciated a dangerous profession. The racers found themselves expressing their own gratitude for what the Soldiers do.

"They're my heroes," said Hillary Will, who is among the top female drivers in the profession. "I can't thank them enough or show enough appreciation. I represent a lot of people in the United States in that respect."

Will, whose grandfather served the U.S. Navy, felt the honor of the meeting was strictly on her side of the signing table.

"It's strange to me that they thank us," Will said. "We're really here to thank them. They're risking their lives and doing a lot for us and I love meeting each and everyone of them. It's even more fulfilling than winning a race."

Each of the racers, said Will, were exposed to the Military's own automotive and motor technology to include Humvees, Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles (MRAP), Strykers, and Blackhawk helicopters.

Will found the Soldiers working on each of these machines to be very comparable to technicians on her own automotive support team.

"I have eight to ten people on my race team, and their whole livelihood is my car. They are very precise and they take pride in their jobs and I see the same spirit here," said Will.

"I went to a live race once a long time ago and I have been hooked ever since," said Sgt. Chad Keeney, a NASCAR fan and California National Guardsman deployed with D. Company, 1st Battalion, 185th Armor Regiment. "When I go to a race it's the camaraderie that I like best."

The team spirit and camaraderie shared by the professional racers and deployed servicemembers offered racing fans of COB Speicher a unique event. What could have been a simple autograph and photo session for fans, felt more like a meeting of comrades for two groups of similar heroes.

Page last updated Wed December 17th, 2008 at 02:14