Red Leg Raceway offers welcome respite from Iraq duties
July 14, 2010
By Master Sgt. Duff E. McFadden, 2nd HBCT Public Affairs
2nd "Spartan" Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division Public Affairs
CONTINGENCY OPERATING SITE MAREZ, Iraq - The sound reaches you first. A low-pitched drone, like a swarm of angry hornets, winds its way through the hot, dry air near the 1st Battalion, 9th Field Artillery headquarters here on Contingency Operating Site Marez.
Dust flies up from behind a line of Hesco barriers, just beyond a parking area full of Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles and armored tanks, softly filtering through a bank of electrical lights.
It's Saturday night. Once the sun goes down and the lights come up, it's race time at Red Leg Raceway in Mosul, Iraq.
The 300-foot long, five-turn, four-jump raceway offers racing in its simplest form - there are no club memberships, track or entry fees. More importantly, it provides a welcome respite from the grind of daily missions for the 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division Soldiers and civilians stationed here.
According to track organizer and racer, Chief Warrant Officer Dan Howison, a battalion maintenance mechanic technician with the 1/9th FA, it took about a month for him and co-founder, Sgt. 1st Class Peter Ruiz, to build the track up to its present standard.
"The original pad was a flat pile of dirt with three jumps. Over time, we moved more than seven dumptruck loads of dirt in by hand, shovel, sandbag, wheelbarrow and gator vehicle.
The Raceway debuted Feb. 7, on a Sunday afternoon, with 12 racers and four classes. Race night was changed to 7 p.m. on Saturday evenings to ensure more participation and to avoid the heat. High temperatures aren't just a stressor for the drivers and fans, but for the equipment, as well. It's hard to set a car up to run in 65-70 degree temperatures, and expect the same performance at 100 degrees or higher.
Racers show up as early as 5 p.m. to get a spot in the pits. Drivers sign out track-provided transponders so their laps will be scored by the digital counter. Once everyone has signed in, the order of the race classes are drawn from a hat.
The track sanctions nine different classes that includes an SC10 two-wheel drive class, a Buggy/Truggy class and a Monster Truck class.
The most popular class, by far, is the SC10 4wd, with approximately seven to 10 cars racing each Saturday. That's just one of the five vehicles Chief Warrant Officer Howison owns and runs.
"We average around 35 cars per race night and have seen as many as 65 on any one night," said Chief Howison. "The average has dropped a bit in the last month from around 48, with the heat and people being on leave."
While the track is used daily for practice, it's shut down on Fridays for maintenance and is off-limits until the green flag drops on race night. Volunteers spread fresh dirt, repair jumps, fix pot holes, rake and sweep rocks away, and then water the track. They also replace sandbags, repair the pipes lining the raceway, police the area, take out the trash and refill the fuel cans, light sets and refrigerator.
Chief Warrant Officer Howison said the best part of the whole Mosul race experience is the camaraderie. Racers help each other out by sharing strategy, parts and set-up tips. They never hesitate to encourage each other and lend a hand wherever needed.
"You can walk up to the track, car in hand as a complete stranger and you automatically become part of the group. If you need help, someone is always there to offer assistance. I have made friends with guys I would otherwise never have met.
"Although points officially go to individual cars and drivers, we have competing race teams and the competitiveness is very high. But it's not so serious we forget about the basics. There's no one who won't help someone just because he's on the opposite team. I won a race one night using parts I borrowed from one of my competitors on a rival team.
"Everyone helps out because we know how long it takes to get the parts you need over here and we all know how bad it feels to be sidelined on race night due to slow shipping."
It's actually a great morale booster, said Sgt. 1st Class Patrick Buckley, a 1/9th FA battle captain, and Fort Stewart, Ga., resident.
"I just came out one night and saw people racing around with their RC cars. I never had an RC car before, so I just decided to get into it and ever since, I've been doing it for about six months now," said Sgt. 1st Class Buckley.
"It gives you something to do on your off time and it really gives you something to look forward to each week. We all get together, both military and civilians, we race and we have a good time," he added.
Chief Warrant Officer Howison plans to continue racing once the unit returns to Fort Stewart, Ga. He's already been in contact with the Phill Hurd Raceway in Savannah, Ga. While he's looking forward to racing and helping out there, he has an even bolder plan.
"I think we need to construct a track in the Fort Stewart area. It wouldn't take much - a power drop and some land and we could be operational. I would like to find a way to introduce this idea to someone back home who could help push it on post.
"There has to be a way to keep Fort Stewart Soldiers from driving back and forth to Savannah to race. There are a lot of tracks in the Jacksonville, Forida, area as well, and I plan to hit them all. But the fact is, not every Soldier will have the opportunity, and I don't think any of them should miss out on the fun," Chief Warrant Officer Howison said.
The Raceway also sponsors a Facebook page called "Red Leg Racing, Mosul." The page features pictures, race results and point standings, as well as good-natured ribbing between the drivers.