Herbert devises new program to honor Marine war veterans
LINCOLNTON, N.C. -- Doug Herbert knew he was doing something anyone else would have done, but to United States Marine Corps Major Philip A. Toretti the warm homecoming he received after a year of combat was more than just a kind gesture. That's why he's joined Herbert in extending the warm feeling he experienced to fellow Marines throughout the 2005 POWERade season.
Toretti had become pen pals with NHRA.com writer Rob Geiger while he was fighting in the Middle East in 2003-2004. It turns out that Toretti was the Commanding Officer of one of Geiger's college friends and the duo's mutual interest in drag racing made them fast friends. After consecutive six-month deployments in hostile zones, Toretti finally got the news he was coming home. When Geiger found out, he immediately invited him to any drag race he wanted to attend.
Based out of Norfolk, Va., Geiger assumed the best course bets were the races in Reading, Pa., or Bristol, Tenn. But when he told Top Fuel driver Doug Herbert about his new friend, Herbert had an even better idea.
"Rob asked if Major Toretti could hang out in our pit when he came to the race," Herbert said. "I said, 'We can do better then that. Let's make him the Honorary Crew Chief.' He didn't know what race the Major was going to attend so I told him it would probably be easiest if the Major just drove to our place in Lincolnton, N.C., and flew with us on my plane. I figured we'd give a war hero the royal treatment. He certainly earned it. The guy's been on four combat deployments in his 23-year career."
Plans were quickly made for Toretti to join the gang mid-summer 2004 at the Fram Nationals in beautiful Sonoma, Calif. The weekend was a success for all parties involved, especially after Fram representative Steve Lavallee made Toretti the Honorary Starter of the race and he was introduced to and given a standing ovation by 50,000 fans.
"Doug and Rob gave me the perfect welcome home from my overseas combat deployment," Toretti said. "They're great guys and now they're both very good friends."
Now Toretti wants to pass on the warm homecoming he received to other Marines. With Herbert's full blessing and commitment, he and his Snap-on Tools dragster team will host a number of active Marine personnel at various races throughout the 2005 NHRA POWERade season.
The season kicks off this weekend in Pomona, Calif., with the 45th annual Winternationals at Pomona Raceway. Herbert and the team will have seven honorary Marine Corps pit members for the weekend -- a welcome addition to the team.
"Last year we had fun building a relationship with Major Toretti and he had such a great time coming to the first race that he kept coming back," Herbert said. "Over the holidays, the Major spent Thanksgiving and Christmas Day at Portsmouth Navel Hospital visiting young Marines who had been wounded in Iraq. I immediately thought about doing something for these guys and collectively we decided bringing them out to the races would be great.
"All of the Marines that will be joining us this year have served combat missions. They are out there fighting for us and this is our way to let them know we support them and we're real glad they made a safe return home. I want everyone at the races to stop by the Snap-on pit on Saturday and tell these guys how much we appreciate what they do for all of us in this country."
Toretti has organized a group of seven Marines that will join the team in Pomona. They will be supplied special "Marine Corps Pit Crew" shirts that Herbert and Toretti designed just for the honorary crew members. The Marines, who will each bring a guest with them, will also have hospitality access with food and drinks and a personalized behind-the-scenes tour of the Snap-on Tools racing program. All expenses are being paid by Herbert and his wife Sonnie.
The Marines attending the Winternationals are: Corporal Dustin Orthman, Lance Corporal Richard Davis, Gunnery Sergeant Otis White, Lance Corporal Joseph Lauglin, Lance Corporal David Brillantes, Lance Corporal Charles Lock, and Master Gunnery Sergeant Tony French. They all applied to take part in the festivities through their chain of command and their Marine Expeditionary Force Sergeant Major chose the lucky winners based on their location and interest in motorsports.
"There are a lot of Marines that are racing fans," Toretti said. "I knew I could ask Doug to help make this happen and it would get done. It was important to me to feel the love of the entire NHRA community when I got back home and I wanted to pass that feeling along to other Marines. With Doug's help, we're getting it done this year."