Memorial Day is a time when the nation honors those who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country. NASCAR honors those fallen heroes at the Coca-Cola 600 race every Memorial Day weekend. This year, to make the event a little more special, a driver will be honoring each service branch during the race.
Before they hit the track, however, we thought it’d be a good idea for each driver to learn a little more about the branch he’s representing. So this week, NASCAR driver Alex Bowman got a crash course in what it’s like to be in the Coast Guard.
Video by Army Staff Sgt. Bruce Petitt
Bowman and three members of his pit crew stopped by U.S. Coast Guard Station Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, on Thursday to get the full tour of the “coastie” life.
Since the clouds in the sky promised rain, the team started its day by unveiling the No. 88 Nationwide car Bowman will be driving in honor of the Coast Guard at the Coca-Cola 600. The car has a patriotic paint scheme and includes the emblazoned name of a fallen soldier, Army Capt. Nicholas Rozanski, who died in Afghanistan in 2012.
After the unveiling, Bowman got to learn the ropes – literally. He and his crew practiced throwing heaving lines to simulate towing operations. Usually the heaving line is thrown from one boat to another, then a tow rope – which is much larger – is pulled over from the heaving line.
“I learned that I’m not really good at throwing the rope … and they [Coast Guard] can tie some tricky knots that confused me instantly,” Bowman joked.
Then it was time for a ride! Bowman and crew boarded a medium-sized Coast Guard response boat and got to cruise out into open water. They practiced search and rescue drills that included his pit crew pulling a dummy out of the water.
“It gives you a big appreciation for what these guys do – everything they do to protect our country and to help people that need it. It’s really interesting to see what goes into it,” Bowman said. “The boats are super cool – all the technology on them.”
Naturally, the professional driver got to take the wheel – in a manner of speaking, that is.
“It’s definitely much different driving with a joystick than with a steering wheel and pedals,” Bowman said.
. @nationwide88 driver @AlexBowman88 drives a @USCG response boat medium like he is on the last lap of the #cocacola600 at @CLTMotorSpdwy! #KnowYourMil pic.twitter.com/OTf0hzbS6I
— DoD Outreach (@DoDOutreach) May 17, 2018
“It’s probably the most expensive thing I’ve ever driven, and somehow we still managed to break it,” he joked.
OK, so that didn’t really happen. It turns out pit crew member Rowdy Harrell accidentally elbowed a switch, which turned the boat off for a second.
“We’ve got to give him as much crap as possible for that one,” Bowman said.
What’s the biggest difference between driving @NASCAR and a @uscg response boat? @alexbowman88 and @teamhendrick tell us. #KnowYourMil pic.twitter.com/sJ6vrwsiCC
— DoD Outreach (@DoDOutreach) May 17, 2018
Thankfully, the boat was turned back on in no time, and everyone safely returned to dry land. Each member of the group was then given a Coast Guard challenge coin. Hats and flags were exchanged before they mingled with the Coast Guard members, signing autographs and shaking hands before going to lunch together.
So what was Bowman’s favorite part of the tour? Naturally, it was driving the boat.
“There were some pretty big waves. I guess 4 feet doesn’t sound that big, but it feels pretty big when you’re out there,” he said.
So now that he’s had a taste of driving one military vehicle, we asked him what else he’d like to drive. It didn’t take him too long to come up with an answer.
“A tank because I don’t think we could break it,” he joked. “But I would still probably find a way.”
In the past month, the four other military branches were visited by drivers who will represent them. Bubba Wallace checked out the F-15E at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, Kurt Busch got seriously immersed in Marine Corps life, Austin Dillon and his crew spent time learning the ropes – literally – at Fort Bragg, while Brad Keselowski took a sea and air tour at Naval Station Norfolk.
Which driver will you be rooting for during the race?
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