By Hannah M. HaynerFebruary 20, 2007
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Army News Service, Feb. 20, 2007) - Everyone seemed to disappear but Mark Martin as he dominated the Daytona 500 track, maneuvering his 01 Army Chevy so no one could pass him and grab his number-one spot Sunday.
And no one did - until he was about to cross the finish line.
In the last lap of the race, Kevin Harvick seemingly came out of nowhere to beat Martin by .02 seconds, the closest Daytona 500 finish ever recorded electronically.
While the first- and second-place winners were setting records at the finish line, mayhem was breaking out behind them as several cars crashed into each other, and Clint Bowyer's Jack Daniel's car caught on fire and flipped onto the grass.
Martin, who was still in the lead when cars started crashing, said he expected a caution flag to be thrown, which would have guaranteed victory for the Army team.
"I was still ahead, and they were wrecking behind me, and if they would have just thrown the yellow (flag), it was in our fingers," he said. "But they waited, and they waited, and they waited, and I didn't have any pusher at the end."
As much as Army fans probably would not like to admit it, Harvick must have made some impressive moves to get to the front, going from 29th to 1st place in 22 laps.
But that did not stop him from feeling like the bad guy for taking the victory from Martin.
"It was a pretty wild race, and everything came down to inches at the end," Harvick said. "I said whoever beats Martin today is going to be the worst guy in the race track, but I'll be the bad guy."
Whether or not anyone thought of Harvick as the bad guy, most people did seem to be pulling for Martin to win as he led the pack through the last 30 laps of the race.
Even fans of other drivers suddenly found themselves rooting for the Army team.
Carolina Wagner, who came from Brazil to see the race and cheer for Jimmie Johnson, said she and others around her ended up cheering for Martin.
"I think he deserved to win," she said. "In the end, I really was cheering for him."
Hank Jorgenson agreed, even though he normally roots for Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin.
"I didn't go to the race, but I watched it on the TV screens with a bunch of locals and out-of-towners, and I think everyone was rooting for him at the end there," he said.
The Army pit was tense with nervous excitement during those last laps. Members of the crew were pacing, praying, jumping up and down, or just standing still, not taking their eyes off the race.
One crew member said he felt nauseous, while another said, "I feel like I'm going to Disney Land!" Someone else said with a smile, "Now this is why we do what we do."
It is a good thing they do what they do, because their speed and tenacity at pit stops sent Martin back out faster than the other cars, which largely contributed to him taking the lead.
Ryan Pemberton, Army car crew chief, agreed they have a great team. "It's all about teamwork, and teamwork will prevail," he said.
Martin gave credit to the team, as well. "Ryan Pemberton and all these guys, they got it done," he said. "They got it done on Pit Road, they gave me the car, huge horsepower, ... and they gave me the tools to get out there."
Regan Smith, who will be co-driving the 01 Army Chevy during 2007, gave credit to Soldiers for the team's success.
"We wouldn't be racing if it weren't for them," he said. "We appreciate everything they do."
Some crew members mentioned how honored they are to wear the Army name on their uniforms.
"It's good to work for an organization that supports our country," said Scotty Hazlett, front-end mechanic. "We wouldn't be here doing this if it weren't for the Soldiers. Thank you; we appreciate you."
David Cook, interior mechanic, grew up near Fort Drum, N.Y., and has friends deployed to Iraq. "I have utmost respect for every military person out there," he said.
"We have to stay Army strong," said Pete Wright, a crew overseer. "If the Army racecar keeps morale strong, we have to keep it going."
"I hope I gave our Soldiers something to cheer about," Martin said. "I'm so proud to drive for the U.S. Army."
Many are calling Martin an "Army of One," but hopefully, with a crew like his, and with the U.S. Army supporting him, he will never feel alone in the fight.