DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Army Pfc. Patricia Hoffman and Air Force Capt. Caroline Kenelly were honored to attend the NASCAR Nationwide Series DRIVE4COPD 300 at Daytona International Speedway with race car driver Jennifer Jo Cobb.
"It was absolutely amazing," said Hoffman, 36, of Fort Stewart, Ga. "I never dreamed what it would quite be like standing there in the pits, especially with a NASCAR driver kind of escorting us around. The whole thing was just wonderful."
Cobb teamed with the Army Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command and Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers to create the opportunity for female service members to win a NASCAR VIP Weekend as a salute to women in the military.
She will play host to two female Soldiers and their guests at each of the next four events on the NASCAR Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series circuits in Phoenix, Las Vegas, Bristol and California. The Family and MWR Command will provide a $600 gift card for each winner to help cover travel and lodging expenses.
Hoffman, who had never attended a race before, said spending Feb. 19 at the race track made her one of NASCAR's newest fans.
"My husband used to watch it all the time on TV when Rusty Wallace was racing, but we kind of lost interest," Hoffman said. "You know how things kind of come and go."
Hoffman, a Facebook friend of Army Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation, said she found the "Driven 2 Honor" promotion on the command's social networking page.
"My husband and I both are friends of the MWR," Hoffman said. "He saw it and told me about it, and I was so busy that he finished filling it out for me. We had already planned to be in this area, so that made it even sweeter to get to go to a race and be able to go on pit row.
"That's a once-in-a-lifetime kind of experience."
Kenelly echoed that sentiment.
"I thought it was a really great thing for Jennifer Jo Cobb to do," said Kenelly, 29, of Fort Gordon, Ga. "She showed me a lot about NASCAR."
Kenelly saw the promotion online and shared it with her Air Force cohorts in Georgia. She was surprised to actually win the trip to Daytona International Speedway.
"I submitted it Wednesday morning and she called to tell me I had won on Wednesday afternoon," Kennelly said. "I've never won anything like this before. It was exciting.
"I think it's a great program. Anytime that there's something specifically for the women, I definitely appreciate it. I have a lot of jealous co-workers, I will say that."
The promotion winners got to reach out and high-five the drivers during pre-race introductions and spent much of the race watching from the pits of Jeremy Clements' No. 51 RaceDaySponsor.com Chevrolet. They also had lunch with Cobb at the Sprint FanZone on the infield of the 2.5-mile tri-oval.
Following lunch, they toured the garage of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series cars before returning to the pits to watch the end of the race from near the finish line.
Hoffman particularly enjoyed having lunch with Cobb, who shared personal tales of the way she is treated in the male-dominated world of NASCAR.
"There were a lot of comparisons to being a female in the military and being around guys all the time," Hoffman said. "We share that kind of rivalry."
Cobb, who failed to qualify her car for the race, would rather have been driving on Saturday, but she felt fortunate to be able to spend more time with her military guests and their husbands.
"Not making the race gave me an opportunity to really spend time with the ladies the entire time," Cobb said. "That was really pretty cool. I'm going to miss that in the future when I'm racing and don't get to sit down and have conversations like that.
"I learned a lot about the perspective of the female Soldier and what it means for her Family and their husbands. That's the whole common bond of being a female in a male-dominated environment... where we really connect."
Despite a busy weekend of trying to qualify and race a truck and a car, Cobb played host to the troops without missing a beat.
"I am proud of the people that pulled this off- including the people at the Family and MWR Command and Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers- and just how quickly we were able to move this program along and get the women out." Cobb said. "The women and their Families were fantastic.
"We told them, 'Listen, you're kind of guinea pigs for us, so give us feedback, let us know what we can do better, and we'll learn as we go.' I'm really looking forward to meeting more and more of these women who serve our country.
"To be able to bring two female service members who normally wouldn't get this experience, and for them to be honored by the entire NASCAR community as we do before every race, it was really pretty great."
Family and MWR eligible patrons can visit www.mwrpromotions.com to self-nominate or nominate female military personnel for the NASCAR VIP experience with Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing.