Lee Petty

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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April 30 in NASCAR: Mark Martin passes Dale Earnhardt to get Talladega win

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If Dale Earnhardt was “Mr. Restrictor Plate,” Mark Martin was “Mr. Good Almost Everywhere Else.”

When their respective Cup Series careers were over, Earnhardt had 76 points wins at 17 different tracks with 10 coming at Talladega.

Martin had 40 points wins across 20 tracks, with Talladega the site of his only two superspeedway wins.

The first occurred April 30, 1995.

The race saw Martin dominate, leading 86 of the race’s first 173 laps. Meanwhile, Earnhardt only led three of the first 183 laps. But Earnhardt was there at the end, assuming the lead from Rusty Wallace with five laps to go after Wallace ran out of gas exiting Turn 2.

Martin was hot on Earnhardt’s rear bumper as they crossed the finish line with four laps to go.

The duo ran by themselves until they were caught on the backstretch with two laps to go by Jeff Gordon and Morgan Shepherd, pulled along in the draft by the lapped car of Sterling Marlin.

As they raced through the tri-oval toward the white flag, Martin faked going high before going to Earnhardt’s inside. Martin led at the line while Earnhardt was hung out to dry. Exiting Turn 2, Shepherd got loose and tagged Earnhardt’s left rear, sending him into a spin before he made light contact with the wall. He’d finish 21st.

From there it was a race between Martin and Gordon, who would earn 12 restrictor-plate points wins in his career, with six at Talladega.

But Gordon would have to wait until 1996 for his first. Martin took the checkered flag for his first of four wins in 1995.

“I can’t believe it,” Martin told ESPN. “With two to go I’d thought we’d lost for sure. … When (Gordon) caught us, we caught (Earnhardt) at just the right time to get a big shove and Dale was putting a block on us but we were coming. We were going one way or the other. … I see how they do it now. Fast cars.”

Also on this date:

1966: In the midst of a boycott by Ford, Richard Petty dominated to win a lightly attended race at Darlington. Petty led 271 of 291 laps from the pole to score his third win of the season. About 12,000 people attended the race with 5,000 being Boy Scouts who were admitted for free, according to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: Big Bucks and Boycotts.” Curtis Turner quit as a Ford driver and competed in the race in Smokey Yunick’s Chevrolet.

1967: Richard Petty dominated at Darlington again, leading 266 of 291 laps and beating David Pearson by one lap. The win was Petty’s 55th, which moved him by his father, Lee Petty, on the all-time wins list.

1994: Hermie Sadler led 85 laps and beat Dennis Setzer to win the Xfinity Series race at Orange County Speedway in Rougemont, North Carolina. It was the last of Sadler’s two career wins, both coming at that track. it was the last of 27 Xfinity races at the .375-mile track.

2005: Ted Musgrave led all but two laps, survived a restart with two laps to go and beat Dennis Setzer in a Truck Series race at Gateway International Speedway. It was Musgrave’s only win in his championship campaign.

April 24 in NASCAR: Terry Labonte gets Xfinity win in photo finish

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On April 24, 1999, NASCAR had to go to the video tape to determine who won the Xfinity Series race at Talladega.

According to The Associated Press, NASCAR asked potential winners Terry Labonte and Joe Nemechek to park their cars outside Victory Lane as it reviewed footage of their photo finish moments earlier.

Labonte had been third when the last lap began and he pulled even with Nemechek on the outside as they entered Turn 3 and raced back to the finish line.

NASCAR ruled Labonte won by .002 seconds. He only led the final lap of the 113-lap event.

Terry Labonte edges Joe Nemechek by .002 seconds to win the Xfinity race at Talladega on April 24, 1999 (Screenshot).

Labonte’s win, which came in a car with a backup engine, was his 11th and final Xfinity Series victory.

“I told them on the radio ‘I don’t know if I won or not, but it was close,'” Labonte told ABC Sports. “I’ve been in some close finishes here, but not that close.”

Also on this date:

1960: Lee Petty earned his 50th Grand National win in a shortened race at Asheville-Weaverville (N.C) Speedway. The race was ended by NASCAR after 167 laps due to hazardous conditions on the half-mile track’s paved surface, according to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: The Superspeedway Boom.”

1977: Cale Yarborough won a rain-shortened race at Martinsville for his fifth win in nine starts to begin the season. … Future Cup Series crew chief Paul Wolfe was born.

1983: Darrell Waltrip outran four other cars in a nine-lap shootout to win at Martinsville. Tim Richmond led 58 laps before he was held for five laps by NASCAR after his team put left-side tires on the right side. Ricky Rudd was fined $1,500 by NASCAR after repeatedly slamming into Joe Ruttman’s car on the cool down lap and on pit road, according to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: The Modern Era.”

1999: Dale Earnhardt passed Rusty Wallace coming to the checkered flag to win race No. 2 of the International Race of Champions season. Earnhardt led only the last lap, just like in his IROC win earlier that year in February at Daytona.

2016: Carl Edwards performed a bump-and-run on teammate Kyle Busch in the final turn to win at Richmond.

April 22 in NASCAR: Brett Bodine claims lone Cup win amid controversy

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Brett Bodine, one of the three Bodine brothers who competed in the NASCAR Cup Series, made 480 career starts in Cup between 1986-03.

In that time, the New York native visited Victory Lane once.

And it wasn’t boring.

It came on April 22, 1990 at North Wilkesboro Speedway as Bodine, making his 80th career start, drove the No. 26 Quaker State Buick owned by NHRA legend Kenny Bernstein.

Bodine led 146 of 400 laps and won over Darrell Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt, but not without some controversy.

The confusion began after a round of green flag pit stops that occurred from Lap 280-318. Bodine, who stopped on Lap 301, became the leader on Lap 318 when Waltrip was the last driver among the leaders to pit.

Then Kenny Wallace brought out the caution on Lap 321 when he spun in Turn 1.

But when the pace car pulled onto the track to pick up the field, he pulled in front of Earnhardt, not Bodine, who was running just ahead of Earnhardt.

NASCAR kept the race under caution for 18 laps as they attempted to sort out the scoring. They eventually told Earnhardt, Waltrip and other drivers who stayed out under the caution to get behind Bodine, who had pitted during the caution with other drivers.

Bodine would lead the final 62 green flag laps and take the checkered flag. Waltrip would protest, but NASCAR ruled Bodine the winner. The next day’s Charlotte Observer cited sources that said NASCAR officials admitted they made a “judgement call … one that can’t be changed.”

“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” Bodine said according to the Observer. “I didn’t think it would take this long and I got impatient. … Now I can say I know I can beat them ’cause I did it once before.”

Years later, Waltrip recalled petitioning Bill France Jr. to rule in his favor.

“I walk over to Bill and I’m almost on my knees,” Waltrip said. “‘Bill, he did not win this race and everybody in this garage area knows that.’ And Mr. France in his divine wisdom, took his cigarette out of his mouth, put his arm around me and he said, ‘DW, leave that boy alone. That’s the first race he’s ever won and you’re going to win a lot more races.”

Waltrip would fail to win in 1990, his first full-time season without a victory.

Also on this date:

1951: Marshall Teague won a race at the Arizona State Fairgrounds in Phoenix. In time trials for the race, driver Allen Heath flipped his car and suffered three broken ribs, a punctured lung and head injuries, resulting in him being taken to the hospital. According to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: The Beginning,” relief driver Chuck Meekins flipped on the second lap in almost the same spot as Heath and ended up in the same hospital room with Heath.

1962: Richard Petty won at Martinsville after leading 145 of 500 laps. The race marked the first start by Lee Petty since he suffered serious injuries in a crash in his Daytona 500 qualifying race in February 1961. He started and finished fifth. He would only make five more starts.

1979:  Richard Petty won at Martinsville, beating Buddy Baker for his first short-track win since 1975 at Bristol

2001: Bobby Hamilton won at Talladega for his fourth and final Cup Series victory. It was also the first Cup win for Andy Petree as an owner. Both his wins came in 2001.

April 19 in NASCAR: Lee Petty wins at Richmond as Flocks boycott race

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Today would have seen the Cup Series hold its 128th race at Richmond Raceway.

The race would have fallen on the same day that Richmond hosted its inaugural event in 1953.

Then, instead of a .750-mile paved short track, NASCAR’s pioneers competed on a half-mile dirt track at the Atlantic Rural Fairgrounds.

According to the next day’s Richmond Times-Dispatch, about 5,000 fans watched Lee Petty claim the win. He took the lead with 10 laps to go and went on to beat Dick Rathmann (after an evaluation of scoring cards resulted in Buck Baker being moved back to third).

The race also was highlighted by who wasn’t in it.

Brothers Tim and Fonty Flock boycotted the event. When it came to qualifying, the Flocks had wanted to wait for track conditions to improve before they made their attempts. But after NASCAR gave all drivers a 30-minute window in which to make their runs, the Flocks refused. NASCAR then asked them to start from the rear of the field, according to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: The Beginning.” The Flocks objected, packed up and left.

Also on this this date:

1964: Fred Lorenzen crossed the finish to win at North Wilkesboro just in time. His engine almost immediately blew after coughing its way through the final five laps, according to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: The Superspeedway Boom.” Lorenzen survived to beat Ned Jarrett by about 200 yards.

1997: Steve Park led the final 71 laps to win the Xfinity Series race at Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville. Park became the first driver not named Dale Earnhardt to win in the Xfinity Series for Dale Earnhardt, Inc.

1998: Ron Hornaday Jr. passed Jack Sprague with five laps to go and won a Truck Series race at Phoenix Raceway.

2010: Denny Hamlin took the lead on a restart with 12 laps to go and led the rest of the way to win at Texas Motor Speedway over Jimmie Johnson. It was Hamlin’s second of eight wins that season.

2015: Matt Kenseth won at Bristol Motor Speedway in a race named after NASCAR reporter Steve Byrnes, who would pass away two days later from cancer.