Leonard Wood

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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Original Wood Brother, Ray Lee Wood, dies at 92

Ray Lee Wood
Wood Brothers Racing
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Ray Lee Wood, one of the original members of Wood Brothers Racing, died this week at the age of 92.

The third son of J. Walter and Ada Wood, Ray Lee joined his brothers, Glen, Clay, Delano and Leonard, in forming NASCAR’s longest running race team in the early 1950s. He was part of the efforts that would win the 1963 Daytona 500, the 1965 Indianapolis 500 and the inaugural American 500 at North Carolina Speedway at Rockingham in 1965.

Wood changed the front tires and helped prep the cars that were driven by Glen and other NASCAR legends.

He took his turn behind the wheel as well. In 1958, on the sands of Daytona Beach, Ray Lee hit 142 miles per hour on the measured mile in a hopped-up street car, topping the speed chart for that day.

“Ray Lee could have been a race driver as well as Glen,” Leonard Wood said in a media release.

When the Wood Brothers won the car owner’s championship in 1963, Ray Lee was the listed car owner of record and the championship trophy bears his name.

Ray Lee felt “the calling of the Lord” in 1965 and he left racing behind at the end of the year, but not before Curtis Turner won in Ray Lee’s final race with the team on Oct. 31 at Rockingham.

“Ray never went back to the track after 1965, but he supported us all the way and always followed our races on the radio or TV,” Leonard Wood said. “He was a great brother and a great all-around person.

“I can’t say enough good words about him.”

‘The Madhouse’ and the Wood Brothers’ first Cup win 60 years ago

Bowman-Gray Stadium
(Photo by ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images)
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Leonard Wood has been to a lot of race tracks and seen a lot of things.

Sixty years ago this weekend, he stood near the guardrail at Bowman Gray Stadium and watched his brother, Glen Wood, beat a handful of fellow future NASCAR Hall of Famers to earn Wood Brothers Racing’s first Cup Series win.

In a sign of the times, Glen led all 200 laps around the short track in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, nicknamed “The Madhouse.”

“I watched (Glen) run and enjoyed how he was in and out of traffic, working traffic and leading every lap of it. So fun to watch your brother go out and beat everybody like that,” Leonard told NBC Sports. “You could just come right to the guardrail and watch them come in. I learned more about handling at Bowman Gray than any other one race track because you’d stand at that guardrail and watch the car come in the corner, you’d watch it drive through the middle and then you’d watch it drive off.

“The changes you’d make, (you’d see) right in front of your eyes. You could see the suspension and how it worked. Great place to learn as a young kind trying to figure it all out.”

WINSTON-SALEM, NC: Glen Wood at Bowman Gray Stadium in the early 1950s during weekly NASCAR modified and sportsman racing. (Photo by ISC Archives/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images)

The brothers from Stuart, Virginia, had been visiting the track since the early 50s, competing in modifieds, convertibles and NASCAR’s top division.

Leonard detailed his brother’s driving style that helped him lead every lap that day and in two more Grand National races at Bowman Gray that year, on June 25 and Aug. 23, for a total of 600 laps led.

“(Glen) had just a technique of how he passed on the outside,” Leonard said. “What he would do (is get his) left-front fender up to the outside of (the other car’s) right-rear fender and he’d hold it tight against the guy.

“(Glen) wouldn’t be like a foot or two away from him. He’d hold it tight against him to even touching him. When he’d come off the corner, he’d inch up another foot. Then the next lap he’d inch up another foot and then once he got up beside of him, he’d just blend out and away he went. Just give a guy all the room he needs, but to hold it tight against him, it kind of messes him up too, it slows him down.”

Using that method in the April 18 race, Glen beat Rex White, Jimmy Massey, Richard Petty and Ned Jarrett. In June, he beat Lee Petty and White. In August, he topped Lee Petty and Junior Johnson as he lapped the field.

An ad in the High Point Enterprise newspaper promoting the Grand National race Glen Wood would get his first career win in.

By the time Glen retired from racing a few years later, he had 29 wins at Bowman Gray in modifieds, convertibles and the Cup Series.

“I liked the flatter tracks,” Glen said in 2010, nine years before he passed away at 93.  “If you got your car handling good, you could beat people without trying too hard.”

Another level to Glen’s dominance at “The Madhouse” in 1960 is what the Woods were competing against.

Their blue Ford Fairlane, which had the No. 16 on it, had a bolt-on hard top which could be removed to transform it into the convertible it spent most of its time as.

While they were racing a 1958 Ford, every other driver in the top five of the April race was piloting a 1959 or 1960 model car.

How Glen Wood’s first Grand National win was covered in the April 19, 1960 sports section of the Charlotte Observer (newspapers.com).

To emphasize how well that No. 16 performed, Leonard recalled a visit with it to Martinsville Speedway.

Glen was pulling out of the pits when Marvin Panch drove by in a 1959 Ford. Panch passed him going down the backstretch. With Glen still on his warm-up lap and Panch exiting Turn 2, Glen caught him and passed him on the backstretch.

There were two keys to the car’s power. One was its lightness, a product of the Woods tending to build their cars from the remains of vehicles that had been in fires, which burned the heavy soundproofing materials located in the door panels.

Second, it was a low rider.

“Nobody really seemed to think about how low you could get your car,” Leonard said. “We had it just as low as you could get it suspension-wise. There was no limit, you know with the height rule. … I always liked it as low as we could get it.”

Sixty years and 98 Cup wins later, the Wood Brothers are synonymous with with the No. 21 on the side of their Ford cars. But they wouldn’t take that numeral to Victory Lane for the first time in the Cup Series until six months later when Speedy Thompson won at Charlotte Motor Speedway for their first speedway win.

Leonard explained how the No. 21 became their permanent number (aside from using the No. 7 in 1986 as part of a 7-11 sponsorship).

The first race car they ever had was labeled with the No. 50. But after being involved in a wreck that burned the car, they rebuilt it and placed the No. 16 on it, the number Glen won with in 1960.

(L-R) Curtis Turner, Leonard Wood, Earl Parker of the Champion Spark Plug Company, and Glen Wood look over an engine at a NASCAR Cup race in 1961. (Photo by ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images)

“When we started running convertibles, we was running 22,” Leonard said. “Fireball Roberts had the hard top running the 22. When they’re running (convertibles and hard tops) together, the convertible had to change the number. The hardtops had priority. So we put 21 on it and left it.”

While there was no sentiment behind the decision that led to the No. 21 becoming one of NASCAR’s most iconic numbers, Leonard got a little sentimental when asked if it felt like six decades had passed since the Wood Brothers’ first Cup win.

“In some ways it does, in some it don’t,” he said. “It feels like it’s been a long time. I get to looking at things, looking at the (team) museum (in Stuart, Virginia), the history of the Wood Brothers and just think everyday about Glen and I, how much fun we had and what all we did starting out. You didn’t have a lot of money and you just had to make your parts … just how far we’ve come since we started.”

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There’s no racing going on amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but that’s not keeping Leonard from staying active at home.

“I design remote control cars,” he said. “I’ve been doing that for a long time. I’m catching up on a lot of that right now.”

Like the cars he tinkered with in his days at Bowman Gray Stadium, they have quite a bit of power. His 1/10th scale cars “run like 70 mph … Like full 2.5 horsepower. That’s a lot of horsepower for a little car.”

With COVID-19 being particularly harmful to people in his age range, the 85-year-old former crew chief “don’t want to take no chances on that.”

Whenever he goes out, Leonard wears a double-canistered mask, “like you use at a paint booth.

“If I have to go out to get groceries, post office or bank or anything, I put a double-canistered mask on. Whenever I take it off, I spray it with Lysol.

“Another thought is, if you go somewhere and you’re a little worried about where you been, spray the inside of your car with Lysol and close the doors when you park it.”

You heard the man, stay safe.

Friday 5: NASCAR fans on front lines of a pandemic

Photo: Michael Palmer
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After his 12-hour overnight shift as an emergency room nurse ends, after witnessing the life-and-death struggles coronavirus patients face, after the anger, sorrow and joy he and his colleagues share, Michael Palmer goes home and tries to sleep.

When he awakes, he FaceTimes 9-year-old son Mikey “so I can have that motivation and realize that there’s still good in life.”

Soon after, Palmer returns to work at a suburban Detroit hospital for another 12 hours of highs and lows. But there is something that separates him from his co-workers. It’s the No. 48 Palmer writes on his mask and tapes to his face shield, showing that he’s a Jimmie Johnson fan.

Palmer is among many NASCAR fans who work in hospitals, medical facilities and ambulances across the country helping those afflicted by coronavirus. A Chase Elliott fan and his Kyle Busch-rooting wife are EMTs in South Carolina. Another Elliott fan is an ER nurse in Florida. A Matt DiBenedetto fan works in a California maternity ward that has treated infected mothers. A Clint Bowyer fan waits for her symptoms to cease so she can return to work at a New York hospital.

With most Americans under stay-at-home orders, medical professionals treat patients each day amidst the threat of catching the virus. Palmer, 37, turns to racers for inspiration.

Michael Palmer has been an emergency room nurse for 12 years. (Photo: Michael Palmer)

“You know the race car driver mentality?” he said. “They know that there is some sort of degree that they could be in a bad wreck and lose their life, but they don’t think about it. They just get in and they race. That’s kind of how I look at my job. Yes, there is a high risk of contracting corona being on the front lines, but it’s not something I think about.”

Instead, the former firefighter, who has been an ER nurse for 12 years, focuses elsewhere.

“The reason why we do what we do,” Palmer said, “is because we have a love for humans.”

Palmer’s job never has been more challenging. Michigan has emerged as one of the nation’s COVID-19 hotspots. Palmer’s hospital is located among the counties at the epicenter of the virus’ spread in that state.

“The first week was very rough,” Palmer said of the 60-hour work week. “Just from the get-go for the first seven days … trying to figure out what is the best way to protect yourself, what is the best way to protect others. You don’t really know what is going on. We were setting up tents. The hospital was in a complete lockdown. No visitors were allowed, and you’re seeing people that are coming in that are sick. We’ve lost people.”

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said this week that she expects the state’s coronavirus cases to peak by the end of April or early May. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services reported Thursday that the state had 21,504 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 1,076 deaths. Michigan ranks third among states in confirmed coronavirus cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Because Palmer is on the frontlines, he has kept away from his son to avoid infecting him and his son’s mother.

Palmer visited his son last Sunday for the first time in three weeks, delivering an Easter basket and gifts since he will work this weekend. Palmer got his son a Kevin Harvick diecast car and hauler. Harvick is among Mikey’s favorite drivers, along with Brad Keselowski, Johnson, Elliott and Busch.

Father and son stood outside several feet apart, abiding by social distancing practices. For an hour, they talked and watched some of the televised virtual Bristol race.

They plan to be in Bristol Motor Speedway in September. Palmer gave his son tickets to the track’s night race as a Christmas present. They first went to a race together on Father’s Day 2017 at Michigan International Speedway.

Mikey Palmer with Jimmie Johnson at Michigan International Speedway on Father’s Day in 2017. (Photo: Michael Palmer)

Naturally, father dressed his son in Johnson attire with a hat and shirt that day. Johnson signed Mikey’s hat before the driver’s meeting. After the meeting, Mikey hoped to get a picture with Johnson but a crowd encircled the seven-time Cup champion.

“Jimmie actually saw (Mikey),” Palmer said. “He stopped, turned around. He put his arm around (Mikey’s) shoulder and pulled him forward and said, ‘Everyone step back, I want to take a picture with my biggest fan here today.’

“I’m glad I had sunglasses on. I had tears in my eyes.”

For now, it is only Palmer’s eyes that patients and colleagues can see when he works. He is covered in gowns, masks, gloves and other gear in the emergency room. Palmer and others work to combat coronavirus and help return the world to a normal way of life as soon as possible.

Without racing, weekends aren’t the same for Palmer.

“Every Sunday or Saturday night, my home, you felt like it was an event,” he said. “It just feels like that is missing now and you don’t realize how much you miss it until it’s gone.”

Palmer can’t wait until the next NASCAR race.

“It doesn’t matter where it’s at,” he said, “whenever they get back, it’s going to be good to see them on track.”

A SCENE AN EMT WON’T FORGET

In more than 20 years as a firefighter or EMT, Chad Pleasant has had his share of emergency runs that still impact him.

“There are days where if I’m at work or if I’m at home … and I happen to ride through an area where I know I ran into a specifically bad call that didn’t have a good outcome, no matter what I’m doing … when I hit a certain spot, it comes back,” Pleasant said. “It’s fresh.

“When it comes to day-to-day, you just rely on your partner to get you through the shift and you lift each other up and you just keep going and keep pushing because somebody else is going to need your help.”

One particular scene during this pandemic sticks with Pleasant.

Part of his role is to transfer patients between medical facilities primarily in and around Spartanburg, South Carolina. He recently transported an elderly woman to a rehabilitation center. The patient’s daughter met them at the rehab center but could not hold her mother’s hand or be near for fear of possibly infecting her.

Chad Pleasant served as a firefighter before becoming an EMT. (Photo: Chad Pleasant)

“It was a little sad for both of us, my partner and I,” Pleasant said of witnessing the moment.

The daughter stood about 10 feet away from her mother.

“She took a picture of her,” Pleasant said, “and said she didn’t know when she would get to see her. Things like that kind of bother you a little bit. These patients that are elderly, you never know if this is the last time they see their family or not.”

The 37-year-old Pleasant and his wife Heather both are EMTs. They have three children: Abigail (16 years old), Chase (13) and Greycie (seven). Protecting each other and their children from potential coronavirus exposure has led to some extreme measures.

Earlier this week, Pleasant’s final call of his shift involved transporting a coronavirus patient. After that was completed and the ambulance cleaned, Pleasant went home. Before he entered his house, he removed his shoes, leaving them outside, and stripped, putting his uniform in a garbage bag. Pleasant took the bag in the house, put his uniform in the washing machine and showered before seeing his family. It’s a routine many health care workers now do when they return home so they don’t infect family members.

While home, he looks ahead to the rest of the NASCAR season. Pleasant — who was a Dale Earnhardt fan, then Dale Earnhardt Jr. fan and now a Chase Elliott fan — has not been to a Cup race since 2012 but had tickets for his family for next month’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. It was to be his youngest daughter’s first race. Now? Pleasant isn’t sure.

But what Pleasant hopes is to be able to attend next year’s Daytona 500.

“I’ve been there, and I’ve been on the track,” he said of a summer 1999 trip that included a speedway tour, “but I’ve never seen cars on track.”

It would be a scene he would not forget.

PREPARING FOR A SURGE

Brandon Nobles, an ER nurse for nearly two years, spends his shifts cross-training in the intensive care unit to prepare for an expected surge of coronavirus patients at his Tallahassee, Florida hospital.

“Right now it’s the calm before the storm,” the 30-year-old said.

One forecast, based on a University of Pennsylvania model and released Thursday, suggested that hospitals in and around Tallahassee could run out of intensive care unit beds by mid-May and total hospital beds a couple of weeks later.

But such forecasts can change based on social distancing, testing and other factors.

Brandon Nobles and wife Jamie at 2019 Daytona 500.( Photo: Brandon Nobles)

“The biggest thing with this is it is kind of an eerie unknown,” Nobles said.

Because of how contagious the virus is, hospital workers are covered in protective garb and one can only see their eyes. Not seeing a co-worker’s facial expressions is striking to Nobles.

“It’s hard to tell what type of day somebody is having just by looking at their eyes,” he said. “Not being able to see their reaction to things and their smile, their facial expressions. We’re all covered up from head to toe, so going 12 hours, which is our shifts, and just to be able to tell what type of day they’re having based on their eyes, it’s definitely different. You’re used to seeing people smile and see people laugh.”

That’s the new reality in hospitals and elsewhere with the CDC recommending people wear cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.

Nobles looks forward to when such measures aren’t needed and life can return to normal, which would include racing.

He became a Jeff Gordon fan during Gordon’s dominance in the late 90s but it wasn’t until July 2000 that he saw his first race in person when he went to Daytona International Speedway.’

“All it took was one race,” said Nobles, now a Chase Elliott fan, “and I’ve been hooked ever since.”

NEW SKILLS NEEDED

While many in hospitals treat patients during their most difficult times, Cindi Scott is with patients during some of their best times. She’s a maternity nurse at a Southern California hospital.

Yet, even there the pandemic’s effects are felt. Some hospitals limit maternity rooms to one guest. In some cases, the expectant mother is alone because her partner must watch other children at home. Family and friends who could have helped are kept away by the threat of COVID-19.

Cindi Scott with Wood Brothers Racing co-owner Leonard Wood at Auto Club Speedway. (Photo: Cindi Scott)

“They’re by themselves and this is supposed to be one of the best days of their lives,” Scott said of some expectant mothers. “We’re trying to be everything for them besides being their caregiver.”

That leaves Scott with expanded duties from holding the expectant mother’s hand to coaching and offering encouragement before the baby’s birth.

Once the baby arrives and is healthy, Scott’s role changes.

The 48-year-old, who has spent 22 years as a nurse, becomes a filmmaker. When there are no family members in the room, she’ll hold the phone so others on FaceTime can see the baby. Other times, Scott becomes an IT person, setting up a Zoom conference so friends and family members of the mother can see the child.

But Scott and her colleagues also tend to expectant mothers who have coronavirus or are presumed to have it pending test results. That creates challenges from limiting who has contact with that patient to performing necessary duties in a particular time frame to limit exposure. Before treating such patients, a nurse is observed putting on all their protective personal equipment to ensure no contamination.

All this makes early March seem more than five weeks ago. That’s when Scott and a few female friends camped in the infield at Auto Club Speedway and watched Alex Bowman win the Cup race. They’ve also attended races at Phoenix Raceway. Once racing returns, Scott would like to plan a girls trip to Bristol or Martinsville.

“It’s a girls trip and it’s fun,” said Scott, who was a Dale Earnhardt Jr. fan before becoming a Matt DiBenedetto fan. “The feel of the race cars when you’re there at the track, it’s unlike anything else.”

WAITING TO HELP

Amanda Kidd can’t wait for the coming days. The interventional radiologic technologist continues to shows some symptoms of coronavirus even though she tested negative for it.

Until all symptoms are gone, she’s stuck at home instead of working at a hospital near Watkins Glen International.

“It sucks,” the 31-year-old said. “Especially when a lot of your colleagues are there and you are seeing what they’re going through and then you’re stuck at home and not able to help.”

There has been one way she has helped her colleagues. When they set up a drive-thru testing site, they called her to be the first one to see how it would work. She drove to the site, rolled down the window and had a swab in her nostril.

“It feels like they’re tickling your brain,” she said.

Kidd said she hopes to be symptom-free and back to work next week doing what she can to help others.

And she looks forward to being back at Watkins Glen to watch racing. She was a fan of Dale Earnhardt Sr. and then became a Dale Earnhardt Jr. fan. Now, she likes Clint Bowyer. She includes Bubba Wallace and Kevin Harvick among her favorites but notes that “if I had to pick out one to hang out with, Clint Bowyer would be at the top of the list.”

While at home, she has had virtual watch parties with friends for the NASCAR iRacing events. They’ve communicated through FaceTime, but she longs to see the real action and camp at the Glen.

“I just can’t wait to get back to the track,” she said. “Be around the cars and the people. I think everybody is kind of on the edge of their seat just ready to get back because they miss the community and being there together.”

It can’t come soon enough. That’s also how Kidd feels about her recovery, so she can again help people in need.

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Wood Brothers Racing taking donations to help quarantined seniors

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The ongoing outbreak of COVID-19 has led to quarantines at nursing homes across the country, including the Landmark Center in Stuart, Virginia, the hometown of Wood Brothers Racing.

On Sunday, the team announced it was raising money to buy tablets so residents at the Landmark Center could video chat with family members.

The team put up an initial pledge of $1,500 and made it possible for fans to donate $10 through their website.

Each donation would result in a hand-written thank you card from Matt DiBenedetto, Leonard Wood and Eddie and Len Wood.

The response has blown by their expectations.

“I knew we couldn’t buy up every one from the team side so I figured a crowd funding thing would help but I only anticipated buying about 10,” Jon Wood told NBC Sports via text. “I told Matt and he was good with it since he would be signing the thank you notes. I set it at 200 ‘donations’ to begin with and that lasted about 5 minutes. Bumped it to 500 and that lasted about an hour. I checked with Matt to make sure he was ok and we bumped it to 1,000 and now it’s at 1,500 which is where I’ll leave it.

” … Wood Bros is in for $1,500 … and we got $15,000 in $10 donations. I just bought 24 iPads to at least have something going by the end of the week because shipping is beginning to be delayed but I expect to have 40 iPads and maybe 40 more amazon fire tablets. We will give whatever the two facilities in Stuart need and then start branching out to others nearby.”

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