Marines storm NASCAR scene in California
By SSgt. Steven D. Williams
| | April 27, 2002
FONTANA, Calif. --
Former NASCAR driver Darrell Waltrip probably said it best when he recently broadcasted that the Marines were all over the place at the California Speedway in Fontana, Calif.
Race fans were on their feet to cheer the Marines appearing in the opening ceremonies at the Auto Club 300 race April 27.
"Makes me wish I was still in," said Albert Fonnell, a former Marine from Palmdale, Calif. "Seeing something like this makes the pride well up inside of you."
Several Marines were honored in the ceremony for their recent participation in Operation Enduring Freedom. A Marine formation from Marine Expeditionary Unit Service Support Group 15, Camp Pendleton, Calif., stood tall on the infield flanked by a color guard from Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, Calif.
Buzzing the stadium were a UH-1N Huey and an AH-1 Cobra from Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 169, and two CH-53E Super Stallions from Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 465, all from 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif.
"So many people woke up with September 11," said Fonnell. "That helicopter thunder is music to everyone's ears now."
For the race, the rotor-wing squadrons' decals stuck on both rear fenders of the Team Marines Racing car driven by Bobby Hamilton Jr.
Above the car's rear fender was a decal with a hometown hero's name: Corporal David Howard, a Marine with MSSG-15 and a 1987 graduate from Del Mar High School in San Jose, Calif. Since March, when Team Marines entered racing action at Darlington International Raceway, the Team has adopted a "hometown hero" program to honor individual Marines and their efforts.
Howard greeted the drivers during introductions in opening ceremonies, and then he climbed to the box above the start line and waved the green flag as an honorary starter.
When his command told him he would be waving the flag and having his name on Team Marines' NASCAR, Howard thought they were playing a joke. "I wouldn't believe them. It took them a while to convince me it was true."
Howard humbly said he was proud to accept the honor of representing all Marines who have been or are still deployed defending the country.
Howard and the rest of MSSG-15 stayed to watch the race as pilots from the flyover shuttled back to watch the race from VIP terrace suites, and Marines in Dress Blue D uniforms filled the Team Marines pit.
Included in the pit were MajGen. Jan C. Huly, Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego and Western Recruiting Region commanding general, and Col. Angela Salinas, 12th Marine Corps Recruiting District commanding officer. They came out to look into the Team Marines Racing recruiting concept.
Recruiters from Recruiting Substation Riverside hosted a Chin-up Challenge in the vending area during the Busch and Winston Cup racing days.
"We got a lot of exposure out of it," said GySgt. Miguel Flores, a RSS Riverside recruiter. "There were people from all over the place out there."
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Marshall K. Day, assistant training officer for Marine Corps Communication Electronics School, MCAGCC Twentynine Palms, brought more than 300 Marines from the school. They weren't decked out in Marine Corps uniforms, but they presented the Marine appearance throughout the entire California Speedway and beyond as they controlled traffic, gates and pedestrian activity.
They donned PT greens after the Auto Club 300 race and ran one motivated lap around the speedway and through more than 10,000 fans camping on the infield. Many fans were packed into a Joan Jett concert on a stage at the infield's edge, but that didn't stop the Marines from adding their cadence to Jett's rock and roll. Jett leaned back when she noticed them, grinned ear to ear and jammed even harder on her electric guitar.
The Marines in the NASCAR weekend events at California Speedway stamped an undying image of the United States Marine Corps on celebrities and sports fans alike. Whether they already had their American flags flying high or not, everyone got a chance to really remember why they are able to live their lives in freedom. They had the United States Marines to thank.