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March/April 2007

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BY MARC LEEPSON

You don’t need the perceptive powers of Sherlock Holmes to spot company and organization logos displayed at car racing events in this country. They’re all over the place, from the cars themselves to the head-to-toe apparel of the drivers and pit crews.

If you go to one of the twenty-three National Hot Rod Association POWERade Series drag races this year, don’t be surprised to see VVA’s logo among the fields of colorful, eye-catching logos. That’s because drag-racing philanthropist Evan Knoll has dedicated a Top Fuel dragster in memory of the 58,000 Americans who perished in Vietnam, along with those still listed as missing in action, as well as the 2.8 million living American veterans of the war.

“VVA is honored that Evan Knoll’s car will carry our organization’s logo,” said Vietnam Veterans of America national president John Rowan. “This is a very big step in helping us get the word out that VVA has been working since 1978 in service to America and that we live our founding principle every day of the year: that never again will one generation of veterans abandon another.”

VVA’s involvement came about when Bobby Bennett, who works in marketing for the National Hot Rod Association racing team, contacted the national office with an offer to feature the VVA as its veterans’ organization of choice to participate in a joint promotion that also recognized Vietnam War POW/MIAs. The matter landed in the lap of Keith King, the chair of VVA’s Public Affairs Committee, a Detroit native who grew up, as he put it “loving cars, especially muscle cars.”

“Chevies, Mustangs, ’Cudas, GTOs, Road Runners, you name it, one of your friends had one,” King said. “Our ‘Mecca’ was the Detroit Dragway. I have
fond memories of watching Don ‘The Snake’ Prudhomme, Connie Kalitta, and that wild woman Shirley Muldowney tear up the guys. And one of the biggest thrills was running my own car on that famed quarter-mile. It’s something you will never forget.”

Within hours of getting the call, King and the Communications Department, working with the National League of POW/MIA Families, put the wheels in motion for VVA’s entry into the dragster logo world by writing press releases, notifying state councils, and shipping logos and VVA flags to Knoll’s race team.

Knoll, the president of Torco Race Fuels in Decatur, Michigan, then adorned the VVA logo on an 8,000-horsepower Top Fuel dragster driven by Melanie Troxel. Vietnam veterans, he said, “did what their country asked of them, and regardless of what anyone’s political beliefs are, it’s high time these men and women got the due respect they deserve. That is what this car is. It’s a high-horsepower ‘welcome wagon.’”

Troxel, a top driver who finished fourth in the NHRA POWERade Series standings in 2006, said she “wasn’t old enough to understand what was going on then in Vietnam, but I feel privileged to be able to honor our soldiers now. So many gave of themselves, gave their lives for our country, and they deserve a hero’s welcome and all our thanks.” Her dragster also features the POW/MIA logo and is sponsored by Torco Race Fuels, Inc., Knoll Gas Motorsports, and Lucas Oil.

Mike Ashley, another Top Fuel driver, was so inspired by Troxel’s car that he put a VVA logo decal on his Dodge Charger Funny Car during the semi-finals of the NHRA CARQUEST Winter Nationals in Pomona, California, February 10. “It’s an honor to support this cause and fly the flag for the POW/MIAs and Vietnam veterans,” Ashley said. “I recognize that without their sacrifices, I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing out here, and my family wouldn’t live with the security we have today. What we’re doing is less than one percent of what we should do for them. It’s the very least, but it’s so important that they know how much we appreciate all they have done.”

Tom Hohmann, the secretary/treasurer of VVA Chapter 47 in Riverside, California, helped unveil the Troxel car. “I would like to say how great it was for me to have taken part in the unveiling of Melanie Troxel’s Top Fuel dragster,” Hohmann said. “This car will have the POW/MIA and VVA logos on it through the whole NHRA 2007 season, as well as having ‘Welcome Home War Veterans,’ VVA, and POW/MIA flags and logos on their tow and chase vehicles and haulers.”

Hohmann said that the logo display, among other things, will be a great recruitment tool for VVA. “How many times have you heard a Vietnam veteran say, ‘I’ve never heard of VVA?’ he asked. “This is one of the best tools we’ve had” to let them know. Hohmann said he provided membership applications to Troxel’s team and suggested that other VVA chapters do the same when the POWERade races come to their areas of the country.

“Visit the tracks and help them out any way you can,” he suggested. “Introduce yourselves; ask what you can do to help; mingle among the crowds that congregate around the POW/MIA and VVA flags that fly in their pits. You can spot the Vietnam veterans. Tell them ‘Welcome Home’ and talk with them a bit. Have membership applications in your back pocket. Tell them about the local chapters. Invite them into VVA.

Don’t miss this chance to experience the Welcome Home we all missed and to reach out to those Vietnam veterans who might just be looking for what VVA has brought to you. For an online schedule with dates and locations of the races, go to http: //www.nhra.com/2007/schedule.asp

ESPN2 will be broadcasting all the races. For more information, go to
http://www.nhra.com/tvschedule.asp?y=2007&s=POWERade

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