Becca Gladden · Friday February 23, 2007
“Speed, teamwork, precision — and a touch of audacity.”
Those are a few of the traits shared by NASCAR drivers and Air Force pilots, according to Colonel Tim Strawther, Operations Group Commander with the 56th Fighter Wing at Luke Air Force Base in Glendale, Arizona.
The colonel addressed an enthusiastic crowd of airmen and their families who gathered on the tarmac Thursday to meet 2003 NASCAR Cup Champion Matt Kenseth.
The February 22nd event was part of Phoenix International Raceway’s ongoing “Salute to Military Families” program, now in its second year.
Along with meeting base personnel and signing autographs, Kenseth helped dish up a barbeque lunch, instructed Colonel Strawther in firing up the engine of a real stock car, and capped off the day off with an hourlong flight high above the Arizona desert in an F-16 fighter jet.
Though excited about the flying opportunity, Kenseth, a private pilot himself, was even more eager to spend time with the servicemen and women.
“It’s really exciting to come out here and see the troops,” said Kenseth. “Racing is one of those things that we kind of take for granted. It’s something I’ve always done, but it’s a great freedom in our country and it’s because of all these guys that we can exercise that freedom. It’s always cool to come here and see them and personally thank as many as we can for everything they do for all of us.”
Although there are similarities, Colonel Strawther humorously pointed out some of the differences between driving a race car and piloting a fighter jet. “He’ll be going from 0 to 200 miles per hour in about 10 seconds. I don’t know how that is on the track, but that’s what we do out here every day. Those [NASCAR] guys are moving, but if they can do that at 20,000 feet, then we can have a conversation,” he laughed. “We’re looking forward to taking some rides in their cars down at PIR, too, and then we’ll compare notes.”
Kenseth denied any preflight jitters and was not concerned about airsickness, though it was his first time in the cockpit of an F-16. “We had to go through some training and get checked out. I’m looking forward to it. It’s an opportunity that very, very few people get, so I’m going to enjoy it as much as I can.”
Thursday’s event also celebrated the 60th Anniversary of the Air Force as well Air Force Week upcoming in March. Colonel Strawther noted that Kenseth’s incentive ride would likely be a mutually satisfying experience. “The aircraft itself is about $25 million a pop,” he explained. “It’s an opportunity to take someone up in an F-16 and show them what we do and share our experiences. He honors us by being here, but we like to show people our business.”
PIR officials noted that they distributed about 4000 NASCAR tickets to Arizona service personnel last year and would meet or exceed that total in 2007, including about 600 tickets handed out Thursday.
Meanwhile Kenseth, with one win and four Top 10 finishes in nine Cup starts at PIR, said he is looking forward to returning to Phoenix in April for the Subway Fresh Fit 500, the circuit’s first night race of the year. “They do a great job holding this race, and it’s a cool area to come to twice a year. It’s a track we all look forward to racing at and it’s always a fun race.”
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