Airman gets NASCAR 'Royal' treatment

  • Published
  • By Capt. Amy West
  • 56th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
It's not every day the morning starts with a phone call from a NASCAR driver, but that's exactly how a 56th Maintenance Group Quality Assurance inspector began work April 8 here.

Staff Sgt. Damon Thurman's supervisor handed him the phone and Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 Crown Royal Black car, was on the other end, inviting him to be his honorary pit crew member for the Subway Fresh Fit 600 April 10 at the Phoenix International Speedway.

"I didn't know what to say," Sergeant Thurman said. "I don't get overly excited, but I think this is pretty cool."

As the recently-announced winner of the 2009 Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Thomas N. Barnes Award, which named the Air Force's crew chief of the year, Sergeant Thurman was selected as Matt Kenseth's honorary pit crew member and represented Luke Air Force Base.

On race day, Sergeant Thurman was welcomed in Matt Kenseth's suite by the driver himself. Along with his guest, Staff Sgt. Charlton DuBose, a 56th MXGQA inspector, Sergeant Thurman had a front-row seat to all the action including a personal tour of the transporter and pit area, brushing shoulders with drivers, standing with the pit crew, and watching the race from the pit box with the crew chief.

Sergeant Thurman, a NASCAR fan since age 10, has attended a number of races, but none compared to this checkered flag chase.

"I enjoy going to races, and this has been extraordinary because I've never been in the infield nor had such an interactive, first-hand experience," he said. "Being in the pit box, seeing the strategy and race data analysis as it occurs during the race was really cool. You see it's a lot more than just driving around in circles as some people would say. You see the pit stops on television and they seem fast, but when you're right there, you find out just how fast they are.

Each year Crown Royal holds a "Your Name Here 400" program, whereby the grand-prize winner is the namesake for the spring NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Richmond International Raceway. This years race honors servicemembers by having a military-themed contest in which all nominees demonstrate the core values of the military in performing a selfless act which made them a hero.

"The Crown Royal team was overwhelmed by the heroism of each and every servicemember who entered the 'Your Name Here' contest, and we are honored to have this opportunity to thank them for their service to our country," said Rob Mason, the Crown Royal senior brand manager.

In keeping with the theme, Crown Royal and Mr. Kenseth's team are also recognizing servicemembers at races throughout the season, choosing Sergeant Thurman for the Subway Fresh Fit 600.

"I feel honored to have been selected and am grateful to Crown Royal and Matt Kenseth," Sergeant Thurman said.

"He's very humble, diligent and cares about his fellow Airmen," said Master Sgt. Bryan Presley, 56th Maintenance Group Quality Assurance chief inspector. "It's very easy to work with Sergeant Thurman; he always has a positive, can-do attitude and never shies away from a challenge."

Sergeant Thurman expressed what an incredible experience it was.

"I never thought I would reap any recreational benefit from winning, but this was an awesome experience," he said. "It sure beats the yard work I had planned."