By Sgt. 1st Class Kenneth Hamilton (108th Trng. Cmd.)September 17, 2014
For nearly 15 years, the U.S. Army has teamed up with Don Schumacher Racing to provide a "Center of Influence" program where a Soldier gets the chance to tell his, or her, story to future Soldiers at one of 24 National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) events held annually.
This past Saturday at the 7th Annual Pep Boys Carolina Nationals, held at the zMAX Dragway in Concord, N.C., that Soldier was Master Sgt. Michael Gainey, 108th Training Command (IET), U.S. Army Reserve.
Gainey, a home town hero from Albemarle, N.C., was awarded the Bronze Star with Valor and Purple Heart for his actions while serving in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom. He says he feels honored to have been selected for the event but adds he doesn't feel as though he is a hero.
"I don't consider myself a hero, but obviously there are people here that want to recognize what Soldiers have done in combat to sacrifice their lives for the freedoms of others."
In addition to telling his story to the future Soldiers at the event, Gainey also had the opportunity to meet with 7 time NHRA Top Fuel Drag Car champion, Tony Schumacher.
Schumacher, who drives the U.S. Army drag car at the events, is also a spokesman for the Army.
"I spend a total of about 6 minutes every year in the car. I get to speak with kids the rest of the time, and it's great," said Schumacher.
Michael Sullivan, Army Marketing and Research, says the program is an excellent opportunity to bring Soldiers out to talk about their experiences and benefits from being in the Army.
"The team and Tony Schumacher, our driver, have been great spokespersons for the Army. They espouse the Army Values in what they do in terms of team work and selfless service."
"Tony travels and talks to a lot of community leaders, school leaders and students. This has been an outstanding partnership for the last 14 plus years," added Sullivan.
Gainey added that it's great to see the motivation that Schumacher brings with the U.S. Army car.
"This is not only great for me, it's also great for the recruiting environment to have Soldiers and Tony [Schumacher] come out and talk to these young citizens who are going to be our future Army."
Before leaving the event, Gainey gave a trackside interview just after Schumacher's third round qualifying run.
"It was amazing! Being down at the racetrack, feeling the power of the engines and the loudness, it was a very cool experience."
"I've never been in an earthquake but I can imagine that this is what it would be like. When the car took off it almost blew my cover off," added Gainey.