How military service helped shape future careers in NASCAR

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Among major professional sports, NASCAR has had one of the longest and most meaningful relationships with the U.S. military.

That is most notable every Memorial Day weekend when for more than 30 years Charlotte Motor Speedway has honored present and former members of the military, especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

While fans and military members will not be in attendance for the 61st Coca-Cola 600 this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a modified version of the annual salute to the military will take place Sunday.

Even without fans and former and current military members in the stands, there will be a military presence at the track in the form of former service members who work for teams or in the sport.

Here are some of their stories:

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TIM CLARK

– Senior Vice President and Chief Digital Officer, NASCAR

– Military service: U.S. Army, 1994-98 (active duty) and 1998-2001 (reserves). Served as a specialist/armored crewman, primarily on tanks.

If anyone would ever try to strap Goodyear racing tires on an M1 Abrams tank, it likely would be Tim Clark.

“Driving an Abrams tank doesn’t translate into a career in digital media, no matter what they try and tell you. Tanks don’t maneuver quite as well (as a stock car),” Clark said with a laugh to NBC Sports.

Tim Clark takes a spin on an Abrams tank. (Photo courtesy Tim Clark)

After piloting tanks in places such as Fort Knox, Kentucky; Fort Riley, Kansas; Fort Irwin, California and Germany, Clark joined NASCAR in 2012.

He came from a military family. His father, grandfather and uncle all served. He joined shortly after graduating from high school.

“(Being in the military) taught me the value of organization and teamwork, being motivated and working on a cause greater than yourself,” Clark said. “Some of the lessons that I learned there are by far the most important things that I’ve been able to apply from a career standpoint, no doubt.”

Clark takes pride in how the Coke 600 has honored veterans over the years.

“I think the respect that’s shown is the best part for me,” Clark said. “The drivers meeting is a great example. You’ll have a ton of VIPs and celebrities introduced, but the standing ovations are almost always reserved for military members.

“Being able to see it from both sides and through two different lenses, it’s incredibly powerful and I’m thankful to have the opportunity not only to have been in the military but also to now work for a company that has so much respect for the military.”

Clark said being in the military serves as good preparation for civilian life. He can’t count the number of times soldiers have asked him how they can someday also work in NASCAR.

Tim Clark during his time in the Army. Photo courtesy Tim Clark.

“That is one of the most pleasant surprises of my time in the military,” Clark said. “The Army does a phenomenal job of preparing you to move into a civilian life and into a career. They help you with resumes, letters of recommendation and tips on how to apply what you’ve learned in the military into your careers and civilian life.”

Clark acknowledges that with fans and military missing, Sunday will be a strange feeling. But at the same time, he’s heartened that CMS and NASCAR will make sure service members and veterans are still honored.

“In an ideal world, we have not only troops at the track but the fans and everyone else out to enjoy the race,” he said. “But if the alternative is that we have a race that doesn’t have anyone in the stands and instead it’s just television entertainment, I think there’s a lot of value in that.

“Our ability to provide some entertainment and a distraction for not only the troops but for all NASCAR fans is top of mind for everyone. We’re doing that in a way that’s going to be the safest option for everyone.”

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TORREY GALIDA

– President, Richard Childress Racing

– Military service: U.S. Navy, 1984-90. Served as an intelligence officer

With three years as an intelligence officer on the U.S. Nimitz aircraft carrier and three years at the Pentagon, the skills Torrey Galida acquired — things like analysis, interpretation, direction and execution — laid a foundation that has carried over into nearly a quarter-century in automotive manufacturing and racing, eventually becoming president of Richard Childress Racing in 2014.

“It was all part of my grand plan,” Galida said with a laugh.

Torrey Galida went from an intelligence officer in the Navy to president of Richard Childress Racing. (Photo courtesy Torrey Galida)

Unlike some current members of the NASCAR community who went from high school into the military and eventually to college, Galida graduated from the University of Colorado, joined the Navy for six years and then earned an MBA from Duke University.

Galida went on to a lengthy stint as an executive with Ford, ran the pace car program for the Indianapolis 500, and was a key executive at Millsport Motorsports and Roush Fenway Racing before joining RCR as Chief Operating Officer in 2011.

Galida has never forgotten his military service. He sits on the board of the Defense Alliance of North Carolina and along with the support of team owner Richard Childress, began a unique program of involvement with veterans more than three years ago.

Before the pandemic, RCR hosted veterans on the first Wednesday of the month, providing coffee and doughnuts and guest speakers. Galida said the event would attract about 200 veterans each month.

“We’ve also done a couple of special events,” Galida said. “We did lunch last May to celebrate the 75th anniversary of D-Day and had over 1,200 people, including 64 World War II vets and five or six that actually participated in the invasion of Normandy.

“It was amazing to see all those people there and incredible to see that many World War II vets.”

RCR, which employs 24 veterans, also is involved in a number of other military initiatives, including an annual “military salutes” program with Dow Chemical Co. at Michigan International Speedway. The initiative features a stars-and-stripes paint scheme on Austin Dillon’s race car that includes the names of nearly 2,000 Dow and RCR employees or family members who are former service members.

“Even though I’ve been around this for 15 years,” Galida said, “it was really a pretty cool experience to see your name actually on the car.”

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DALE INMAN

– Retired NASCAR crew chief

– Military service: U.S. Army, 1959-61, Specialist E-4 ordnance specialist

Dale Inman is the most successful crew chief in NASCAR history, winning eight championships (seven with Richard Petty, Inman’s cousin, and one with Terry Labonte) and 171 races overall.

Inman started going to races with Richard and father Lee Petty in 1951, with several of those trips to Daytona Beach, Florida, for races on the sand.

Dale Inman was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2012. Photo: Getty Images.

After attending the last sanctioned race on the beach in 1958 and the first Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway in February 1959, the then 23-year-old Inman was drafted into the Army seven months later.

He served as an ordnance specialist, which oversees logistics. In Inman’s case, he oversaw the movement of trucks, deliveries and repairs.

Before Inman became a seven-time Daytona 500 winner with Petty, his Army tenure was fairly routine, with one exception.

Not surprisingly, it involved racing.

“In 1960, while in France, me and some friends in the Army went to Le Mans,” he recalled. “We took tents and camped out. We got there a day or two before the race and somehow we rode around the racetrack.

“One of the boys had a car over there and we went riding around the racetrack through the streets and by the houses, which were barriers (for the racetrack). It was unreal.”

Inman was discharged in 1961 and went to work as Petty’s crew chief after the 1963 season.

“There’s no question about how things I learned in the military helped me in civilian life, things like leadership, guidance or how to run a tight ship,” Inman said. “Whether in the Army or NASCAR, if you’ve got five or more people under you, you’ve got to have a leader, right?

Dale Inman, shortly after his arrival in France with the U.S. Army in 1960. (Photo: Dale Inman)

“And you’ve got to respect the leaders. When I became a crew chief, people did respect me and I certainly learned a lot from the military. You’ve got to be disciplined, you know.”

Another story Inman likes to tell is about how “one of my heroes” – a fellow soldier who served a few years before him and someone who would one day join him in the NASCAR Hall of Fame – didn’t exactly get as good of a deal in the military as Inman did.

“They extended (the tours of service of) certain people depending on their birthday,” Inman said. “I missed getting extended an extra year by seven days.

“But Leonard Wood (one of the patriarchs of Wood Brothers Racing) got extended and he had to stay in another year, which cut into his racing.”

Not surprisingly, Wood’s specialty in the Army was the same thing that would lead him to fame and fortune in NASCAR – being a mechanic.

These days, Inman is happily retired in his hometown of Level Cross, North Carolina, where he and Richard Petty grew up together. Inman fondly recalls what the military means to him, particularly all the years it has been tied to NASCAR.

“I still get a thrill when I see the flyovers at the racetrack,” he said. “Any time I’m at the racetrack and see a veteran in a wheelchair or on crutches or with lost limbs or anything, I go out of my way to go speak to them and thank them and carry on a conversation the best I can, and I think they appreciate it too.”

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RANDY FULLER

– PR representative for Brandon Jones and Joe Gibbs Racing

– Military service: U.S. Air Force (1975-78 and 1982-2004). Served as F-16 crew chief, PR specialist, security police and recruiter.

Part of Randy Fuller’s job has been to pass out various sponsor caps to team members for photos in victory lane when his driver wins – NASCAR’s so-called “hat dance.”

Randy Fuller on guard of Air Force One. (Photo courtesy Randy Fuller)

Fuller couldn’t be more suited for that role, as he’s worn many hats in his career, including a 26-year tenure in the U.S. Air Force.

After graduating from high school, Fuller went from being a security police officer to F-16 crew chief to recruiter (he led a team of over 1,200) and marketing and public relations specialist.

He earned several of the Air Force’s most prestigious awards for his service, including for leadership and was named one of 12 Outstanding Airmen of the Year in 1997.

Between his military stints, he also served as a police officer – both full-time and part-time – from Georgia to Utah to Niagara Falls.

Just days after retiring from the Air Force at the end of 2004, Fuller began wearing another cap, that of a NASCAR public relations person.

Over the years, Fuller, 62, has worked with a number of NASCAR notables while overseeing the Air Force’s NASCAR program, including Dale Jarrett, Wood Brothers Racing, Elliot Sadler and Ricky Rudd.

Shortly before he was due to retire from the U.S. Air Force a second time, then-Chief Master Sergeant Fuller was tracked down in San Antonio, Texas by NASCAR team owner Jack Roush to become a public relations person for an up-and-coming driver named Carl Edwards.

Fuller would hold that role for more than 10 years.

While Fuller took Edwards under his wing, he also treated him like a staff sergeant – in a good way.

“I’d only been working at Roush for like three weeks when we had a conversation,” Fuller said. “Carl goes, ‘Why do you always take your sunglasses off when you talk to me?’ I said, ‘Because you can tell a lot by people’s eyes and they can tell a lot by yours. It’s just a matter of respect. That’s what we did in the military.’

“Carl did that ever since. He just picked it up and embraced it. If you notice, Brandon Jones is doing that now, too.”

Since Edwards’ retirement in 2016, he still speaks with Fuller weekly while the latter has gone on to rep a number of promising young drivers including Christopher Bell, Ryan Preece, Kyle Benjamin and Jones.

“It’s pretty neat to mentor people,” Fuller said. “Between the Air Force and NASCAR, there’s so many similarities that you can’t even believe.

“But I think the biggest thing is the team. You can’t just fly an F-16. That pilot is just like the driver. You can’t fly it without the rest of the team refueling it, pre-flight, that kind of stuff, right? Same thing in NASCAR. You’ve got people that never even get recognized that are back in the shop, never go to the track. And these guys are probably some of the most important people besides the driver.”

Fuller has taken part in Charlotte Motor Speedway’s annual Salute to the Troops for more than 20 years, both while in the Air Force and as a team PR rep.

“The pride is huge,” Fuller said. “The hair on the back of my neck still stands up when a flyby goes across.”

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EARL BARBAN

– Spotter for Jimmie Johnson

– Military service: U.S. Marines (reserves) 1982-88. Served as a truck driver.

If Jimmie Johnson was a general in the military, you might say Earl Barban would be his soldier in charge of recon.

Earl Barban (Photo: Earl Barban)

A member of the U.S. Marine Reserves for six years, since his discharge in 1988, Barban has been one of the top spotters in NASCAR.

The 55-year-old Barban has been Johnson’s eyes in the sky for five (2006, 2009, 2010, 2013 and 2016) of the latter’s record-tying seven Cup championships.

He’s also served as spotter during in Xfinity for Chase Elliott (Barban and his wife also drive Elliott’s motor home to and from races), William Byron and Tyler Reddick, as well as Noah Gragson. Elliott, Byron and Reddick won series titles with  Barban.

He was a truck driver in the Marines, a role Barban carried over to civilian life for nearly a decade with Team Penske, piloting haulers for Rusty Wallace, Bobby Allison, Al Holbert, Danny Sullivan, Rick Mears and Emerson Fittipaldi.

“I think my work ethic probably was a huge thing that transferred from the military to privately and personally career-wise,” Barban said. “Whatever the job or task at hand was, you’d just go ahead and do what you had to do to get it finished.”

Being in the military also instilled focus in the St. Louis native.

“My dad used to make fun of me that I had 21 jobs and 21 cars before I was 21 years old, everything from wiring the electric meter that goes on your house to putting the ball on Ban roll-on, mop buckets, making the blades for can openers, Steak n’ Shake hamburger flipper, rental cars and brick laying,” Barban laughed. “But it’s been 32 years in racing since then.”

Part of what led to Barban’s first job with Team Penske, followed by Hendrick Motorsports, Robert Yates Racing and then back to HMS was the spit-and-polish routine he learned in the Marines.

“When you when you walk in, I think there’s a presence: clean cut, (shirt) tucked away pretty nice, pleated pants and polished boots,” Barban said. “I feel like that definitely translated into my private life after having that experience.

“I think that any person that has any military background whatsoever is definitely a good hire.”

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NASCAR Penalty report from Michigan

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The NASCAR penalty report from Michigan International Speedway has been released.

It includes two fines for unsecured lug nuts. Chad Knaus, crew chief for William Byron‘s No. 24 Chevrolet, and Chris Gabehart, crew chief on Denny Hamlin‘s No. 11 Toyota, have each been fined $10,000 for one unsecured lug nut during the course of the weekend.

The report also includes the penalties issued Saturday to Roush Fenway Racing for the improper spoilers used on both Ryan Newman and Chris Buescher‘s cars.

Brendan Gaughan set for Daytona road course after COVID-19 recovery

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On July 15, part-time Cup Series driver Brendan Gaughan became the second NASCAR driver to announce he’d tested positive for COVID-19.

After quarantining for two weeks and testing negative for COVID-19 twice more than 24 hours apart, Gaughan has been medically cleared to go racing again.

And he won’t even have to wait until the Cup Series regular-season finale on Aug. 29 to do it.

Originally scheduled to only compete in the season’s four superspeedway races with Beard Motorsports, Gaughan will suit up to drive the No. 62 Chevrolet in Sunday’s race on the Daytona road course (3 p.m. ET on NBC).

He joins Jimmie Johnson in having tested positive for COVID-19 and returned to race. While Gaughan last competed in the June 22 race at Talladega, Johnson only missed the Brickyard 400 before returning to the track.

“I feel fantastic,” Gaughan said in a press release. “I’m finally out of the house. The toughest part of the whole ordeal was the mental aspect. I truly feel for people who struggle with depression and have to deal with COVID-19, because this thing is tough. You literally get stuck in a location by yourself. Fortunately for me, I had my puppy. I missed my two children tremendously. But it’s amazing now because we live in the age of the Jetsons that we can pick up a phone and look at their faces.”

To get clearance to race, Gaughan tested twice for COVID-19 in more than 24 hours and also had to get a doctor’s note saying he was good to go.

“That was it,” Gaughan said. “As long as I’m negative, they are good with it. They still have their protocols in place, so when we get to the track we are all still separated. The drivers don’t get to mingle with the teams right now. NASCAR has done a phenomenal job with it and they have been able to stay open for business while having very, very minor effects from this.”

While he was originally just going to race at Talladega and the Daytona oval, Gaughan says this weekend’s road course race “technically counts.”

“We said all of the Daytona races,” Gaughan said. “What happened is that as soon as it got added to the schedule immediately my mind went, ‘Wow, I would love to race the Daytona road course.’ There’s very few of us Cup drivers that have experience on that race course. And with no practice and no qualifying, that gives about 10 of us a very large advantage over the field.”

Brendan Gaughan
(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Gaughan competed on the road course and earned a class victory in the 2011 Rolex 24 at Daytona, with his team beating second place by a full lap. He’s ran in the Rolex 24 twice since, finishing third in 2016 in the Prototype Challenge class and 14th in 2018 in the Prototype division.

“I was immediately enticed by it,” Gaughan said of the road course race. “Then you know how much I always speak so highly of Richard Childress Racing. Richard called and said, ‘Hey, come on man, you know you want to do it,’ and I kind of chuckled because everyone knows I love my road racing. I talked to the Beard family and said, ‘Hey, you want to add a race to the schedule?’ It wasn’t in the budget. It wasn’t planned originally, but the Beards were on board.

“They are in the same boat as me. This is a retirement year like me and they are having the same fun I am. They went, ‘Ooohh, we can do well there.’ So we called Richard up and he built me a brand new Beard Oil Distributing/South Point Hotel & Casino Chevrolet Camaro from RCR that we were able to rent for Beard Motorsports to go race.”

Gaughan, who will start last in the race due his lack of owner points, dissected how different it will be navigating the road course in Cup compared to the sports car he drove the last time he raced on it.

“I need to remember that the last time I raced there in an LMP car, I could lift at the ‘1’ sign going into the chicane on the back straightaway,” Gaughan said. “Now if I lift at the ‘1’ in a Cup car, I will end up at the airport. So I need to remember that I’m going to need a little more braking zone room. But you basically already know the line and you know where you want to be. You know the feel of the place.

“You know where some passing zones are. You kind of know how to run that race, which is the big advantage that comes with it. Having a car built from Richard Childress means that I don’t have to worry that it’s going to have parts and pieces that aren’t any good. And I still have Darren Shaw, my crew chief, who I’ve been working with at Beard Motorsports. We’ve still got our guys working it and our guys doing it, so I kind of have the best of all worlds here. And there is an advantage for people that have been there. I also gave myself a little bit of an insurance policy. I offered to sponsor Andy Lally in the Xfinity race. To me, Andy Lally is the premier sports-car racer in America.

“I don’t think anybody can argue that there is anybody better than Andy Lally. So, I offered to sponsor Andy because he’s racing Saturday. I told him he has to stay over Sunday and do some driver coaching and give me his notes. Not only do I have experience on the track, I will have notes from a stock car on the track from the day before.”

Christopher Bell: ‘Pretty scared’ about future before re-joining JGR

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Early last week, Christopher Bell was “pretty scared” about his NASCAR future after Leavine Family Racing, the Toyota-backed team the rookie driver competes for in the Cup Series, announced it would sell its assets to Spire Motorsports.

That left Bell’s relationship with Toyota, the manufacturer that’s been the “centerpiece” of his racing career since 2013 and 2015 in NASCAR, up in the air.

“I’ve said it time and time again, but Toyota has been my – they’re the ones that got me here,” Bell said Tuesday in a press conference. “They’re the ones that took me from dirt track racing to pavement racing to Truck (Series) racing to Xfinity racing and then obviously made this deal happen with LFR too. At the time, it’s either the 20 car (at Joe Gibbs Racing) or I’m done with Toyota. There’s no other options. It was very scary. I didn’t want that to end.”

Bell acknowledged that despite his 2017 Truck Series title, his seven Truck wins and 16 Xfinity wins, a lack of sponsorship backing didn’t make him the most valuable hire for another team.

“The sponsorship piece is a huge part of it,” Bell said. “It’s no secret, you have to have sponsors in order to succeed in this sport and I’ve been really fortunate to have Rheem with me for the last couple of years. If I get pushed out of the Toyota group, I don’t really have much to say, ‘hire me.’”

Bell said, “I knew that once LFR shut down, there was only one place for me to go and the 20 car has obviously got a great driver in there right now.”

That driver was Erik Jones, who has been with Joe Gibbs Racing in Cup full-time since 2018 and been a Toyota driver in NASCAR since 2013 in the Truck Series with Kyle Busch Motorsports.

“‘How is that going to work?'” Bell asked himself. “‘How am I going to be able to go to JGR whenever they’re full?’ Unfortunately my homecoming so to speak was at the expense of another driver.”

Two days after LFR’s announcement, Joe Gibbs Racing revealed Jones would not return to the team in 2021, a move that “blindsided” Jones.

On Monday, JGR announced Bell’s ascent up the ranks would finally land him in the No. 20 next season.

“It was very, I mean, uncomfortable is a good way to put it,” Bell said. “I don’t think any of us – myself, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota – none of us expected the whole LFR deal to go down like it did, so I think that put everybody in a little bit of a box. … I’m extremely grateful that I get to continue that relationship and that I get to continue to drive Camrys on Sundays and race with TRD for hopefully a long time to come.”

How does Bell see his relationship with Jones playing out over the final 14 races of the season?

“As far as me versus him, that situation is already done, so I don’t know how he’s going to race me going forward,” Bell said. “I’m going to be cheering for Erik, just as everybody is at Joe Gibbs Racing, just hoping that he gets a nice solid deal and lands on his feet. I’ll be cheering for him and trying to race him with as much respect as I can, just like every other competitor. I hope he performs well, and obviously, the better he performs now in the 20 car, the better off I’ll be at the start of the year with the owner points standings. It’s really important that he does well this year in the 20 car for my future next year as well.”

Bell observed that it’s “absolutely crazy” to look back at his career path, which began in UASC Midgets and has led to him driving a “house” Toyota Cup car at JGR next year.

Going into 2021, Bell said he still has a “great relationship” with the people at JGR from his time there in the Xfinity Series.

“Whenever I was on the Xfinity side, I still got to mingle and interact with the Cup shop a little bit, so I have a rough idea how everything operates there,” Bell said. “I got in a little bit deeper with the LFR deal, and having that technical alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing, but it’s going to be very nice to be able to go back home.”

Spire Motorsports confirms purchase of Leavine Family Racing

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Spire Motorsports confirmed Tuesday that it will acquire the assets from Leavine Family Racing upon the completion of the 2020 season. Spire Motorsports also will expand to a two-car team in the Cup Series in 2021.

The purchase will include LFR’s charter, the team’s race shop near Charlotte Motor Speedway and all of its owned inventory. LFR’s fleet of cars and chassis will be returned to Joe Gibbs Racing.

Spire, which began competing in 2019 after it purchased Furniture Row Motorsports’ charter, fields the No. 77 Chevrolet. It has made 58 starts for more than a dozen drivers since last year, including an upset win in the July 2019 race at Daytona with Justin Haley behind the wheel.

The team is co-owned by Jeff Dickerson and Thaddeus “T.J.” Puchyr.

“This is an exciting moment for Spire as we take the natural next step in our long-term plan to build our race team and prepare for the Next Gen car in 2022,” said Dickerson in a press release. “Bob Leavine invested more than money into LFR and this industry. He built a team brick-by-brick and we have long admired how he took his own steps in the garage. He also did it with his family at his side. We won’t let that be lost in this transaction. When you build something with your family, it always means a little bit more. His ability to connect with fans was genuine and we are thankful he chose us to carry this team forward.

“These are no doubt trying times, but I have never been prouder to be part of this sport. NASCAR has managed several difficult situations this spring and into the summer. We believe in the ownership model that NASCAR has built and where this sport is going now more than ever.”

The team said details about drivers and manufacturers for 2021 will come later.