2017 NASCAR Winner, Crew Try Out Army Life at Fort Bragg

Last week, a NASCAR driver got to check out some of the Navy’s finest ships and personnel as a way to get to know the service members he’ll be representing ahead of Memorial Day weekend’s Coca-Cola 600.

The race just so happens to be NASCAR driver and native North Carolinian Austin Dillon’s favorite race – and not because he won it last year.

“It’s awesome seeing all the military branches out on the track,” he said of the annual event that honors America’s armed forces.

Dillon will be representing the Army at this year’s race, which is what brought him to Fort Bragg. He and some members of his pit crew met with infantry soldiers from the XVIII Airborne Corps at Pike Field on April 26. They got a demonstration on routine tactics before learning a few themselves. It was fitting, considering the race’s atmosphere.

NASCAR driver Austin Dillon (center) and his pit crew try on soldiers’ gear at Fort Bragg, April 26, 2018. The event was held ahead of the annual Coca-Cola 600 race over Memorial Day weekend. DoD photo by Katie Lange

“The XVIII Airborne Corps is America’s contingency corps, and to launch America’s biggest race on Memorial Day at this place is important,” said Army Brig. Gen. Xavier T. Brunson, the XVIII Airborne Corps chief of staff. “It links America’s people to America’s army.”

Dillon’s crew also tried on the soldiers’ kits before checking out rides like the DAGOR ultra-light tactical vehicle and the armed Buffalo mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle, the RG-31 MRAP and the M142 high-mobility artillery rocket system.

The best part of their day: Off-roading in Humvees and the DAGOR, which wasn’t exactly what they expected. When they returned, let’s just say there was a lot of mud and soggy clothing. But they were all smiles.

“We just thought they were going to take us on some trails!” said pit crew member Paul Swan as he shook water out of his pant leg.

“A couple people got stuck back in there,” Dillon explained later. “We pulled them out. It was a good time. I didn’t think that vehicle could get stuck, but they accomplished it. It was pretty impressive.”

Dillon and his crew pose with Army XVIII Airborne Corps soldiers beside the race car he unveiled at Fort Bragg. DoD photo by Katie Lange

Sogginess be damned, the crew continued their mission – that is, to unveil the patriotic paint scheme of the No. 3 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Dillon will drive at the Coca-Cola 600.

While this is the first year that NASCAR is honoring all branches with a driver and a car, the Army has been a participant in the Memorial Day event for decades.

“Our home has been Fort Bragg,” explained Charlotte Motor Speedway Executive Vice President Greg Walter. “This is what we always come back to.”

During the unveiling, Brunson was handed 1,000 tickets to give Fort Bragg families to attend the annual Memorial Day race.

Dillon gears up to rappel down a giant tower at Fort Bragg. DoD photo by Katie Lange

Afterward, it was back to living like a soldier – this time, learning to rappel from the Deglopper Air Assault School’s huge rappel tower. Dillon and crew learned how to “tie their seat” – aka, tie a rope around their midsection that would keep them secure while rappelling – then practiced on a small sloped wall to get the hang of it.

Dillon practices rappelling off a small wall. DoD photo by Katie Lange

Then it was on to the real deal – the giant wall, which most of them aced, with a little encouragement from the soldiers. Dillon said their reliance on safety equipment is similar to his.

“It’s a totally different activity than what I do, but it’s intense,” he said. “[Those soldiers] have nerves of steel.”

After rappelling, Dillon and his crew met with Gold Star families for a private lunch. Overall, it was a pretty amazing experience for all involved.

“I’m so proud to be out here with these guys to see how they work and train every day,” Dillon said. “It’s awesome I got to bring my team out here, because these guys are all about team and working together. I can’t thank them enough for their hospitality.”

XVIII Airborne Corps soldiers check out the newly unveiled race car that NASCAR driver Austin Dillon will drive in honor of the Army at the Coca-Cola 600. DoD photo by Katie Lange

The Marine Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard still have yet to meet the drivers who will represent them, but don’t worry – that’s happening soon!

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2017 NASCAR Winner, Crew Try Out Army Life at Fort Bragg