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Racing for recruits.

FROM the practice of drafting conscripts to the science of drafting the cars of raceway competitors, the Army has come a long way in its search for future Soldiers.

In an effort to become more visible to today's youth, the Army established a racing team, consisting of NASCAR, NHRA Funny Car and stock bike racing, because speed sports appeal to 18- to 24-year-olds, the same age group Army recruiters target.

In this venue, the Army rests its 232-year reputation on highly respected driver Mark Martin, who in 2007 switched to the black and gold Army Chevrolet of the Ginn Racing Team after nearly 20 years with Roush Racing.

"This is the most important sponsor I've ever been associated with in my career, and I take this very seriously," said Martin, who has spent more than 30 years behind the wheel in the high-octane world of stock-car racing.

It was no coincidence that a veteran like Martin enlisted with the Army's racing team. The Arkansas native began his NASCAR career in 1981. Since then, he's notched up 35 NASCAR-Cup wins and has finished second in the Nextel-Cup Series point standings four times (1990, 1994, 1998 and 2002). But as impressive as Martin's NASCAR accomplishments are, it's also the way he carries himself when he's off the track that appealed to the Army.

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"Winning is important, but you also have to find someone who lives up to values that represent the Army," said Col. David A. Lee, U.S. Army Accessions Command's director of strategic communications, marketing and outreach.

"Mark is a great representative for the Army. We've taken him to Arlington National Cemetery, to the Pentagon to meet some of our key leaders, and to Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where he visited with Soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan," Lee said.

"I try to live my life with many of the same values that are important to the Army, and I'm proud to be the guy representing these men and women," Martin said.

While TV viewers can watch him and the Army Race Team compete week after week, race goers are able to appreciate an entirely different experience; Army recruiters, future Soldiers and even drill sergeants are on hand during a typical NASCAR race to chat with interested parties about Army life.

One of the biggest draws each week is the Virtual Army Experience, which uses three large screens and mock military vehicles and fighting positions to give people a chance to experience a simulated combat operation from the planning phase through execution.

"The Virtual Army Experience takes the 'America's Army' video game to the next level," Lee said. "Race visitors really get a feel for what it's like to be in combat."

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Martin also meets with prospective new recruits before each race.

"I couldn't think of anything that would make me prouder than representing the men and women of the Army," he said. "It's a tremendous honor and privilege to be associated with them, and I cherish the chance to give our Soldiers something to cheer about. I gladly meet with Soldiers at the races to show them respect for the sacrifices they make."

"I'd been to races before, but never quite like this," said Pvt. 2 Joshua Southworth, who attended a NASCAR race in Richmond, Va., after enlisting to be a lightweight vehicle mechanic. "I participated in the Virtual Army Experience simulator, and then I got to meet Mark Martin. It was pretty sweet--I'd never done anything like that before."

For the 2008 season, Martin, crew chief Ryan Pemberton and the Army car switched "No. 01" to Dale Earnhardt Inc.'s flagship racecar, "No. 8." When asked how much longer he plans on racing, Martin doesn't hesitate to answer.

"I'm under contract for two more years, so I'll at least be around that long," he said.

Brian Murphy works at the U.S. Army Information Systems Command Public Affairs Office.
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Title Annotation:United States Army racing team
Author:Murphy, Brian
Publication:Soldiers Magazine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2008
Words:656
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