Drivers to visit American troops in Germany

NHRA Drivers Will Return to Germany to Visit American Troops Tour Continues USO Tradiition of Bringing Professional Athletes to Troops Serving Far From Home DETROIT, Nov. 16, 2006 - Five goodwill ambassadors from the National Hot Rod Association...

NHRA Drivers Will Return to Germany to Visit American Troops Tour Continues USO Tradiition of Bringing Professional Athletes to Troops Serving Far From Home

DETROIT, Nov. 16, 2006 - Five goodwill ambassadors from the National Hot Rod Association will once again take part in a USO-sponsored trip to Germany to visit wounded American troops and Air Force/Army personnel stationed at the Kaiserslautern Military Community (KMC). Six-time NHRA Pro Stock champion Warren Johnson, two-time NHRA Pro Stock champion Jim Yates, Top Fuel drivers Melanie Troxel and Cory McClenathan, and Funny Car driver Tommy Johnson Jr. will represent NHRA during a post-Thanksgiving support mission to the KMC and the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center (LRMC).

This tour continues the USO tradition of bringing professional athletes and sports-related events to troops serving far from home. Past USO tours this year include a visit to Iraq and Kuwait by college football coaching legend Lou Holtz and Louisiana State University head football coach Les Miles. NBA stars Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul were among the NBA stars that recently completed a stateside USO tour of military bases.

As in 2005, the Army Special Forces Association, Randall Shughart Chapter 64 based in Carlisle, Pa., is spearheading this year's NHRA visit and the 435th Services Squadron at Ramstein AB will host the drivers during their stay in Germany.

For the past two years, the Randall Shughart Chapter of the Special Forces Association has taken on the mission of supporting the wounded at LRMC with t-shirts, caps, sweatpants, sweatshirts, international calling cards and other items. Accompanying the racers on the trip again this year are chapter members SFC (R) Wayne Reed and MAJ (R) Dieter Protsch.

The five drivers, along with a contingent from GM Racing, will depart the United States on Saturday, Nov. 25, leaving Detroit Metro for the eight-hour flight to Germany. After arriving in Frankfurt on Sunday, Nov. 26, the group will spend three days visiting military personnel assigned to different areas of the Kaiserslautern Military Community, and will also spend a day with wounded troops and hospital staff at LRMC before flying back to the United States on Nov. 29. The group will be based at Ramstein AB, the largest Air Force base in Europe, responsible for the aeromedical evacuation missions that bring the wounded troops to Landstuhl hospital. As part of the troop morale tour, the drivers will be visiting Air Force squadrons on base to see how they fly and maintain their fleet. The USO is providing air transportation for the group's trip to Germany, and GM Racing will ship 1,500 souvenir gift bags to KMC for distribution during the visit.

"We've been planning this visit to Ramstein AB, Germany, from the day we got back from last year's trip", said Fred Simmonds GM drag racing marketing manager. "But this second trip is not the whole story. NHRA sponsors have been providing souvenir gift items to our Army Special Forces Association members throughout the year so that they can deliver these gifts in person on their frequent trips to visit the troops. These guys are not only Special Forces, but they're special people. They make these trips to visit the combat-wounded troops at their own expense, and they are warmly received by everyone in Germany.

"A special 'Thank You' also goes out to those sponsors who've made significant donations: Summit Racing Equipment, Cruisin' Sports, Redline Oil, Pro-Cal, TMG Sports Marketing, Performance Marketing Group, Jeg's Mail Order, U. S. Tobacco, and the NHRA. Our mission is quite simple: tell the troops how much we appreciate the sacrifices they've made so that all of us in America may enjoy the many freedoms we have. They're doing an awesome job under daunting circumstances, and we want them to know just how proud we are of the work they're doing for America."

The five drivers going to Germany are some of the most widely recognized names in NHRA POWERade drag racing.

Six-time NHRA champion Warren Johnson (1992-93, 1995, 1998-99, 2001) drives the GM Performance Parts Pontiac GTO and is making his second trip to KMC. Commonly referred to as "The Professor" of Pro Stock, the legendary racer, innovator and engine builder has captured 96 victories (second all-time to John Force's 121), 136 No. 1 qualifying awards, six U.S. Nationals crowns, and made 149 final-round appearances in a career that goes back to 1971. Johnson has won at least one national event in 24 of the last 25 race seasons, and in October at the ACDelco NHRA Nationals in Las Vegas, Johnson became the first professional driver in the history of the NHRA to compete in 500 races. Earlier this month, the prestigious International Motorsports Hall of Fame in Talladega, Ala., announced that the Minnesota native was one of six drivers to be inducted into its class of 2007.

"It's an honor to be selected to go back for this year's visit," said Johnson. "Last year was a great experience and I wasn't aware of the magnitude of activity that goes on there, especially at the base at Ramstein. Given the fact that we were at the hospital, the efforts of these troops are the most that can be given because these individuals are putting themselves in harm's way to secure and protect our liberties over here. The troops over there are giving everything that they possibly can."

Jim Yates drives the Sea Ray Boats/Wiley X Eyewear Pontiac GTO and is a two-time NHRA champion, winning back-to-back Pro Stock titles in 1996-97. This year, Yates returned to the winner's circle for the first time since 2002 by winning the Pontiac Performance Nationals in Columbus, Ohio. That victory, along with a runner-up at Houston, was the catalyst for the 14th career top-10 finish by the Pontiac GTO driver. Yates is also making his second trip to KMC.

"We're all excited about going back to Germany," said Yates. "Last year's visit was one of the best experiences of my life and it made an impact on all of us. The professionalism, dedication and heroism of our American troops is second to none, and it means a lot to me to be able to give what support I can to some of the finest people our country has."

Tommy Johnson Jr. is the driver of Don Prudhomme's Skoal Racing Chevy Monte Carlo Funny Car and was part of the NHRA contingent that visited Germany in 2005. This season, the 38-year-old Johnson recorded his ninth career top-10 finish spurred on by two national-event victories (Phoenix, Brainerd), a runner-up at Las Vegas and two raceday pole awards.

"Visiting the troops in Germany was about the neatest thing I've ever done," said Johnson. "To be able to go back and be a part of this second support mission is quite an honor. The troops know their drag racing and it will be fun to see some of the good friends we made last year at Ramstein."

Cory McClenathan has compiled an impressive record during his tenure as an NHRA competitor. In his 15 years as a Top Fuel driver (excluding 2001 when he entered just one event), the Southern California native has 29 wins, has raced in 49 final rounds and earned 30 No. 1 qualifying awards. McClenathan earned his 15th career top-10 finish in 2006, the most among active, full-time NHRA Top Fuel competitors.

"Going to Germany last year was a big wake-up call for me," said McClenathan. "A lot of people don't know about the work that goes on there, but it's what provides us with our freedom and safety for our families. I thank the good Lord everyday for the great work performed by our men and women in the Armed Forces, and I hope they all can come home safely to their own families as soon as possible."

Melanie Troxel drives the Skull Gear/Torco Fuel dragster and will be making her first trip to KMC. This year Troxel recorded her first top-five finish (4th place), and had one of the best starts of any driver in the history of the Top Fuel category when she advanced to the final round at the first six races (including wins at the season-opening event in Pomona, Calif, and the Summit Racing Nationals in Las Vegas). She beat out NASCAR's Jimmie Johnson and IRL's Helio Castroneves to win the prestigious Driver of the Year first-quarter award, and just last month Troxel was honored by Billie Jean King's Women's Sports Foundation as its Sportswoman of the Year. The former NHRA Rookie of the Year was runner-up at the recently completed Auto Club NHRA Finals in Pomona, Calif. She is married to Funny Car driver Tommy Johnson Jr.

"This is just about all that Tommy talked about when he got home last year," said Troxel. "I was thrilled and couldn't say yes fast enough when I was asked to go. These soldiers keep us safe and I consider it a privilege to be able to visit with the men and women who sacrifice so much for the freedom of their fellow countrymen."

The USO is a nonprofit, Congressionally chartered private organization that relies on the generosity of individuals, organizations and corporations to support USO activities. The USO mission is to provide morale, welfare and recreation-type services to our men and women in uniform. The original intent of Congress - and enduring style of USO delivery - is to represent the American people by extending a touch of home to the military.

-credit: gm racing

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Series NHRA
Drivers Warren Johnson , John Force , Helio Castroneves , Jimmie Johnson , Cory McClenathan , Don Prudhomme , Melanie Troxel , Tommy Johnson Jr.