ALTUS AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. --
The sound of a loud engine is a familiar one to Air Force Base personnel, but on Nov. 4, 2018, Airmen from the 97th Air Mobility Wing were invited to hear engines of a different kind.
From the 97th Air Mobility Wing, 12 Airmen were invited by NASCAR to the Texas Motor Speedway as part of the “Troops to the Track” program.
“We’ve been doing Troops to the Track for about 10 years now,” said Daniel Klenetsky, the senior manager of public and government affairs at NASCAR. “It gives us a chance to bring the military out to the races. They love it, and the fans love to see it too.”
The Airmen were given an all-inclusive tour of the races and facilities.
The day started by showing Airmen the inner track area, where they got to see cars and mechanics work only hours before the race started.
This gave the personnel the chance to meet NASCAR favorites like Joey Logano and Ty Dillon. After a few quick photos, the Airmen were invited as guests of honor for the crew chief and driver meeting.
This meeting happens before every race and allows NASCAR to make sure the rules of the race are understood. In addition, it gives NASCAR a chance to introduce guests to the audience.
As the Airmen were the first to approach the red carpet, the crowd erupted into cheers celebrating and welcoming them to the race.
“This is crazy,” said Airman 1st Class Scottie Shoemaker, a bioenvironmental engineer assigned to the 97th Medical Group. “I’ve never seen this kind of support for the military anywhere before. It really does make you feel good.”
The appreciation for the military did not end at the red carpet event.
“The best part is seeing the admiration that the kids have for the military,” said Klenetsky. “They’re constantly asking to take pictures and are so happy to meet the service members. They see them like superheroes.”
After grabbing a quick lunch, the Airmen were invited to pit road, which is the area where the cars stop for repairs during the race.
The Airmen were able to stay by the pit stops while the race started and were able to see the race up close.
“Those cars are way louder than you think,” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jesse Braham, an air traffic controller assigned to the 97th Operations Support Squadron. “It’s pretty amazing to think we were on the track just a few minutes before the race started.”
After a few minutes of watching the race in the heat, the Airmen took their seats in suites courtesy of the Troops to the Track program.
This unique opportunity given to the Airmen is not one money can buy.
“What Troops to the Track gives isn’t open to the public,” said Klenetsky. “The passes we give out that allow you into the pits aren’t commercially available. You have to either get it from a sponsor or from NASCAR.”
NASCAR gave 97 AMW Airmen not only the opportunity to see the sport close-up and be fans for a day, but to meet their fans as well. From seeing the races to the admiration from the crowd, this is an experience that likely won’t be forgotten.