JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas –
As part of their Military Salutes program, Garrett Smithley, driver of the No. 51 Ford Mustang in the NASCAR Cup Series for Rick Ware Racing, and his crew, brought the team's show car to Joint Base San Antonio May 3-5.
Smithley and his crew showcased the car, signed autographs and met fans at each JBSA Exchange as well as Brooke Army Medical Center.
Lt. Col Michael Granberry, 39th Flying Training Squadron director of operations, saw the car in front of the JBSA-Randolph Exchange and had to make a stop. Ironically, his call sign is “NASCAR.”
“I can’t tell you the whole story, let’s just say it involved a lot of left turns,” Granberry said. “With this call sign, I’m geared to notice NASCAR, so I had to see what was going on.”
Airman 1st Class Jessica Brown, 802nd Force Support Squadron personnel specialist and a NASCAR fan since she was a kid, was full of excitement as she approached the front of the JBSA-Lackland Exchange and noticed the vehicle. After asking a lot of questions about the car and engine, she took her turn in the driver’s seat.
“My heart was racing a little bit, it was exciting to be able to meet the driver and sit in the car,” Brown said. “I always wondered what it was like and realized you only have a certain view as the driver. It’s quite the task.”
Smithley showed great appreciation for being able to be there and meet with service members. Both of his grandfathers served, one in the Army and the other in the Marine Corps, so this made it personal for him. As a child, his family would participate in a big celebration on Christmas Eve, thanking those that were headed to Iraq and Afghanistan. His parents, both being military children, stressed from a young age the importance of thanking those who serve.
“We just wanted to say thank you to all the brave men and women that keep us safe everyday so we can do what we do on the race track,” said Smithley. “I’ve always been very passionate about the military.”
The visit to JBSA allowed the race team a perfect opportunity to unveil the military digital paint scheme that will be used at the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Memorial Day weekend. Smithley, who drove the Air Force car at last year’s annual event took a moment to reflect on the day.
“Memorial Day is always super emotional. Last year we had hundreds of names of fallen service members on our hoods,” Smithley said. “It was really powerful. I’m just so thankful to be a small part of it. Nothing we can do can thank them enough for their sacrifice.”
After their meet-and-greets, Smithley and his crew were able to see some of JBSA’s assets. They received a mission brief at the 149th Fighter Wing at JBSA-Lackland, had a look at the pilot’s preparation area and equipment, and got an close-up look at an F-16 Fighting Falcon.
At JBSA-Randolph, the 12th Flying Training Wing provided a tour as well, allowed Smithley to fly in a simulator and gave the racing crew access to a T-38 Talon. Pulling out all the stops, the 12th FTW allowed them to bring the No. 51 show car out onto the flightline to go nose-to-nose with the T-38.
“My favorite part of this trip was to roll our show car out onto the flightline and park it next to the T-38 and be able to take pictures in front of that aircraft,” Smithley said. “This year, we’ve visited around 40 military bases and never been able to do something like that. It was a really cool experience.”
Smithley got one more surprise as he met with airmen from the 12th FTW, one pilot recognized him. Capt. Nathan Bruhn, who is training to be a T-38 instructor pilot, recognized him from high school. They graduated together from McIntosh High School in Peachtree City, Georgia
“That was such a surprise. I now have two or three friends that went into the military,” Smithley said. “It just goes to show you how small of a world it is.”
Throughout the trip, Smithley and his crew were nothing but grateful for their experience. They emphasized the importance of their interaction with service members and their families and the joy they received from their reactions.
“Thank you, JBSA, for what you guys do. We could not do what we love to do without what you guys do," Smithley added. "We appreciate you guys and be safe out there.”