Touring NASCAR drivers, crews make pit stop at Ramstein
RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — Take a few race car drivers, throw in some olive-drab military vehicles with big motors and even bigger wheels, and the saying “kid in a candy shop” rings true.
That’s what happened Tuesday when some current and former NASCAR drivers, team members and track owners toured a few squadrons at Ramstein Air Base. Inevitably, the drivers ended up behind the wheel of whatever vehicle the squadron had on hand.
“You guys got cool stuff!” driver Mike Wallace told airmen at the 86th Logistics Readiness Squadron, who let Wallace back its Halverson aircraft loader out of the garage and run it through its paces — including raising it to its full 18-foot height.
“He operates it better than most of our drivers,” said Staff Sgt. Clint Miller, who was tickled that Wallace autographed the door of the loader after his quick turn around the parking lot.
“What little hair I have is standing up on my head,” Miller said.
At the next stop, it wasn’t long before Wallace and fellow driver Rick Crawford were behind the wheel of massive snow-removal machines, cruising at top speed (about 50 mph) down the Ramstein taxiway.
It was a far cry from the 180- to 190-mph speeds that Wallace would get on the oval track, but the veteran driver got a kick out of it just the same.
Along with Wallace and Crawford, drivers Brendan Gaughan and Ernie Irvan got the VIP treatment as part of a troop morale-building tour. The group also included some team members, like Danny “Chocolate” Myers — former crewmember for the late Dale Earnhardt — and some track owners.
The tour was sponsored by the National Association of Stock Car Racing and the Department of Defense Employers’ Support for the Guard and Reserve. The group continued the tour on Wednesday in Bosnia before heading to Naval Air Station Sigonella, Italy, and RAF Mildenhall, England.
“You’re going to find that most of the people who go to the races are very patriotic,” Myers said as the tour bus made its way to another stop. “They believe in the government, and they believe in what these troops do. They know these guys are risking their lives so we can do what we do.”
“We’re here to let them know that, by God, we care about them,” Myers said.
Many of the troops who turned out for the visit were dyed-in-the-wool NASCAR fans, sporting racing ball caps and carrying their souvenir cards with them for autographs.
“The cars are fast, and it’s fun watching the wrecks,” said Staff Sgt. Donnie Sturm, whose 5-year-old son, Donnie, knew many of the drivers already.
“We pick a favorite driver and watch him for the whole season,” said Sturm of the 86th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron.
Others, like Senior Airman Ryan Parr, had some key questions for the drivers, such as: “Is it difficult to turn right?”
Airman 1st Class Rebecca Klaus said she’s been a fan of stock car racing since she was a little girl.
“I was always getting my hands dirty when I was growing up,” Klaus said. “I just love cars. I always have.”
All in all, the tour members and hosts seemed to enjoy themselves on Ramstein, home to the 86th Airlift Wing, the largest in the Air Force.
As Myers said in his thick North Carolina drawl: “Have you heard my new slogan? Join the Air Force. We have a hell of a lot of fun.”