Racers reflect Army diversity, values
September 20, 2007
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (TRADOC News Service, Sept 14. 2007) - When one thinks of vehicles and the Army, the mental picture that usually comes to mind is those huge mega-ton tanks and heavily armored trucks and Humvees.
Each week, however, a few more vehicles wearing Army colors are fulfilling their missions. They include a Chevrolet driven by Mark Martin for the NEXTEL Cup National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) series; the sleek and speedy top fuel dragster guided by Tony Schumacher; and a pair of Suzuki motorcycles ridden by Angelle Sampey and Antron Brown, who are members of the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA).
The drivers are part of an Army marketing strategy - they reflect the diversity of America's oldest service, and they're the embodiment of the latest ad slogan "Army Strong." One of their jobs as they compete in the national racing circuit is to be noticed and appreciated by potential recruits and/or the families who may influence a decision to join the armed forces.
Their success can be seen in the faces of enthusiastic enlistees like Natalia Silva, 18, who attended the recent NHRA race near her hometown of Elizabeth, N.J. "I always wanted to go into the Army since I was a little girl in Brazil," she gushed. "It's a great opportunity." Silva also expressed the excitement of seeing a female competing in the NHRA.
Actually, Sampey is doing more than merely "competing" ... she often dominates the track. She may be only five-feet tall, but Sampey is a giant in the motorsport world. She won the NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle event in 2000, 2001, and 2002, and is the most-winning female in NHRA history after only 10 years in the sport.
She finished third in points last season and has placed in the top five for nearly all of her 10 seasons. She set a new national speed record of 6.871 seconds at 194.21 mph while at Englishtown, N.J. June 23. At the Toyo Tires National Championship in Maple Grove, Pa., Aug. 18, she matched the second highest national speed record of 6.901 seconds and 193.96 mph.
Sampey hopes to secure her fourth world championship - her first while being sponsored by Army - in a few weeks. As of Aug. 31, she was ranked second with five more races to go in the 2007 series, which concludes Nov. 5 at Ponoma, Calif. She's been the top qualifier in five races so far this season, winning April 1 in Houston.
Sampey was sponsored by RJ Reynolds when she first met Army Lt. Gen. Dennis Cavin, then Commanding General of the U.S. Army Recruitment Command. She was introduced by Tony "The Sarge" Schumacher, the five-time world dragster champion, and driver of the Army's Top Fuel dragster.
"He wanted the general to meet all of the world champs, and I was (one of them) that year," she said.
The general gave Sampey an Army pin to wear, and she won the race that weekend. By the end of that year she lost her sponsor, RJ Reynolds, and she was looking for a new one. Two weeks later, Sampey was riding an Army Suzuki motorcycle.
"Fortunately, I fit the right marketability they were looking for," Sampey said. She also believes it's because both she and teammate Antron Brown represent themselves well off the track as well as they do on the track.
"You just never know who's watching," Sampey explained.
Although RJ Reynolds was a "great company," she said she was promoting a product she doesn't use - cigarettes.
"This is so totally different," Sampey said about the Army sponsorship. "We're offering an opportunity to young people."
Another bonus: Sampey may talk and interact with young people; something she wasn't permitted to do while representing the tobacco company due to underage smoking restrictions.
Furthermore, she said she enjoys the Army sponsorship because, frankly, she admires Soldiers and prays for their safety every night.
"I love the Soldiers; I'm so devoted to them," she said. "I feel responsible when I'm representing them, and I want to win for them. It's our way of showing our appreciation; by doing well on the race track."
Sampey's connection to the Army goes farther than just how fast she can drive a motorcycle. She also worked as an intensive-care nurse before turning pro on the motorcycle tour.
"When I talk to young women, it's as much about nursing as it is about racing on the fastest motorcycles in the world," Sampey said at Maple Grove.
While she and her teammates, Antron Brown and Tony Schumacher, get to go through mini boot camps, jump out of airplanes, and learn more and more about the Army life, Sampey also got to experience what Army nurses go through when not outfitted in the most pristine conditions out in the field.
"I've had several different appearances at Fort Bragg, and I've learned a lot about nurses in the Army," she said. "A lot of young people don't know what to do with their lives, where to go or even how to get started. There are lots of good opportunities for them in the Army."
Even though Sampey has already surpassed the legendary Shirley Muldowney's record for most wins, she has her eyes set on something bigger: being the winningest racer - both male and female - in NHRA's history.
"It's been fun competing against the guys," Sampey said, with a flip of her chestnut-colored hair. "I tell people you can do anything, and I can prove that because I've lived what I've said."
Antron Brown also joined the Army team in the middle of 2003. It was a bit of irony not lost on Brown's family. During his youth, both his father and uncle pushed him to join the service.
"I've attended several mini-boot camps and basic training," Brown said. "Now I finally understand what they went through.
"It's amazing to learn what teamwork is all about," he added. "People who didn't know each other three weeks earlier felt as if they had known each other for years by the end of it. Instead of being selfish, they learned to put the whole Army first in their lives."
The Trenton, N.J., native admits the idea of him, an inner-city kid, doing well on the pro motorcycle circuit was a long-shot. He went to live on his grandfather's farm in Chesterfield, N.J., and it was there Brown found out he was mechanically-inclined.
"Everything happens for a reason," Brown said. "I'm blessed in so many ways. I can't thank the Army enough."
Brown, who joined the pro racing circuit in 1998, lost his sponsor at the end of the 2002 season. Still, midway through the 2003 season, he refused to quit.
"I had no money, but I stayed out here (on the circuit) anyway, working deals," Brown said.
At about that time, the Army was looking to expand its sponsorship from NASCAR and Top Fuel dragster to motorcycles. Brown, along with Sampey, matched the marketing plan to appeal to women and minorities.
"The cool part about being very diverse is that we can go out there and touch different people within our country who watch us through NHRA," Brown explained.
All of the racers speak highly of their crew members, who service the vehicles and keep them race-ready.
"That's the main thing about having a great team," Brown said. "You can't do any of this without the other."
Brown, Sampey and Schumacher all spend time going to high schools, junior colleges and universities to talk about careers and goals that can be found through the Army.
"We have the opportunity to motivate them for what they can do in life," Brown explained. "I tell them failure will happen. But you take that failure and learn from it to achieve your goals."
Brown's personal best is 194.25 miles per hour. It's a mind-boggling speed on a vehicle with no protective cockpit like those in the dragsters and funny cars.
"You're very alert and in tune with yourself," Brown said. "You stay focused on the mission and must be both mentally and physically strong, because you're going three G-s (gravitational pull) at the starting line."
Although Brown initially resisted the lure of the Army, the core values - loyalty, duty, respect, self-less service, honor, integrity and personal courage - reeled him in. It's a lifestyle he wears on and off the track, even if his uniform is leather compared to Army's camouflage battle dress uniform.
"I want my kids to live that way as well," Brown said of his two children, Arianna, 5, and Anson, 3. He is married to teammate Angelle Sampey's cousin, Billie Jo. "I want them to do right even when no one is watching. You need the core values to be successful in life. That's what makes Army so strong."