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Air Force makes special delivery at Daytona 500

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla, (AFNS) --

The Air Force made a special drop into the Daytona International Speedway leading up to the NASCAR Cup series opening Daytona 500 race, which will be run Feb. 16.

Bubba Wallace, driver of Richard Petty Motorsport’s No. 43 car, made a grand entrance to this year’s race. Wallace entered the raceway from 10,000 feet after jumping out of a C-17 Globemaster III with the Air Force Wings of Blue parachute team.

He typically enters the infield of the Daytona International Speedway through the Turn 4 or Turn 1 tunnel. Once Wallace landed, he celebrated with his team, family and Air Force members before getting into his car, which was waiting for him at the start and finish line for a hot lap around the track.

“I don’t know if you can have more of a grand entrance than jumping with the Wings of Blue and landing in the infield at the raceway,” Wallace said. “That was super cool. I’ve been able to go up with the Air Force a couple of times in fighter jets, and I didn’t think that could be beat. I’m still trying to decide if skydiving beat that, but jumping with the Wings of Blue was incredible. The adrenaline rush I got at the moment we stepped off – wow, what a rush that was.”

For the Air Force, having Wallace jump from a C-17 served as an opportunity to highlight the Air Force’s mission on a large stage. The event garnered a lot of attention from the media and race fans.

“This will be huge, not just for the weekend, but for the entire year,” said Master Sgt. Sean Christian, Air Force Recruiting Service noncommissioned officer in charge of special events. “This is the first time Daytona has allowed any driver to skydive into the racetrack. The experience reflects our relationship and commitment to the race team and the mission to inspire young people who are looking for careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. NASCAR has one of the biggest reaches of all the Air Force’s partnerships, and today will reinforce that messaging.”

For the C-17 crew, it was a chance to highlight one of the many tasks the cargo plane can accomplish.

“This was great,” said Maj. Eric Darwin, C-17 pilot based at Charleston Air Force Base, South Carolina. “I’m a big NASCAR fan, so being able to drop Bubba Wallace into his race car and get ready for the race is a really cool thing. There is nothing better than having the Air Force on a race car, so everyone can see our brand and then seeing this big airplane from Charleston Air Force Base. It’s great for recruiting and a great chance for all those kids out there to see what the Air Force is all about.”

Air Force Recruiting Service is entering its 12th consecutive season partnering with Richard Petty Motorsports. The Air Force’s involvement with NASCAR, and its partnership with RPM helps AFRS meet its mission of inspiring the nation’s brightest young men and women to serve.

As one of the most popular spectator sports in the United States, with a patriotic fan base, NASCAR provides an ideal recruiting landscape to reach young people interested in science, technology, engineering and math, as well as those who are mechanically inclined.

“The Air Force is excited to continue its partnership with Richard Petty Motorsports,” said Maj. Ross McKnight, AFRS’s National Events Branch chief. “The partnership provides a strategic platform to generate public awareness about the Air Force’s core values and missions. It showcases the similarities between the Air Force and NASCAR, which include strong teamwork, technology, engineering and speed. It also shows how young Americans can turn their hobbies and interests into a career in the Air Force.”

The Air Force is embarking on a total force recruiting enterprise approach to recruit the nation’s best talent. Total force recruiting encompasses recruiting efforts for all of the Air Force, including active duty, Air Force Reserve, Air National Guard, the Air Force Academy, civilian talent acquisition and Air Force ROTC.

“What you saw today with NASCAR, Fox Sports, the Daytona track, Air Force active duty, Air Force Reserve, pilots from Charleston Air Force Base, jumpers from the Air Force Academy … that was total force,” Christian said. “And not just total force inside the Air Force, it was total force with our community partners. That, along with all the moving parts we had today, made this a huge success.”

Air Force and Air Force Reserve recruiters will be on hand at the race this weekend, meeting with race fans and showing the opportunities available to serve in the Air Force, full time, part time, in or out of uniform. A total force mass enlistment is scheduled to take place in the racetrack infield prior to the race.

A highlight of this weekend’s race will be the paint scheme of the No. 43 car, which will resemble the iconic A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft, right down to the tiger shark teeth on the grill.

“The A-10 Warthog is one of the baddest planes out there,” said Wallace, whose father served in the Air National Guard. “By the time you hear it coming, it’s too late. The way we were able to portray it on our race car was super incredible.”