Crew chief remembers friend in National Guard who died in Iraq

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CONCORD, N.C. – They are more than names on cars. They were family members, friends and colleagues.

Each car in today’s Coca-Cola 600 features the name of a fallen military member on the front windshield instead of the driver’s name. Teams could chose a person to honor.

The name on AJ Allmendinger’s car – CPL Darrell Smith (Feb. 22, 1975 – Nov. 23, 2003) – was a friend of crew chief Brian Burns.

Smith and Burns both went to the same high school in Southern Indiana (Smith was a grade ahead) and were in the Indiana National Guard together.

Smith died near Baghdad, Iraq, when the Humvee he was riding in overturned into a canal only days after he had returned to Iraq after a trip home.

Burns, who was in the Indiana National Guard from March 1993 to March 2001 and reached the rank of Sergeant, recalls his friend and the good times they had, including a incident with raccoons.

One weekend they were camping in the woods as part of their training, but raccoons kept stealing Smith’s food. The MREs (meals ready to eat) included Tabasco sauce, so Smith and Burns got several packets of it and lathered it on some food the left out. They hid in the bushes with their night-vision goggles and waited for a raccoon to take Smith’s food again. When it did?

“I never knew a raccoon could make the noises it was making,’’ Burns said, laughing at the memory. We were cutting up laughing. The thief got it.’’

That’s how Burns remembers Smith.

“He was always smiling,’’ Burns said. “Anytime you’d see him, he’d smile at you.’’