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A weekend at the track

ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. -- While Ellsworth was bogged down in sub-zero temperatures, a contingent of Ellsworth maintainers and operators spent the weekend in Daytona, Fla., to support two Air Force approved flyovers during the Daytona 500 weekend Friday through Sunday.

Among the thousands of spectators, vendors and race crews were members of the Air Force Motorsports team, which is an associate sponsor of the No. 21 car.

“Our vision and goal in the Air Force Motorsports team is to get the Air Force in front of as many people as possible,” said Senior Master Sgt. Mike Rowland, Air Force Recruiting Service Marketing Branch Motorsports Division superintendent. “We not only do that with the Air Force sponsored race car, but with Air Force flyovers.”

Prior to the scheduled flyovers Saturday and Sunday, some members of the racing circuit took advantage of the opportunity to see the B-1 up close and spoke to Ellsworth Airmen.

“Whenever I’m in the presence of (military members), I’m always in awe of the commitment and character of the American service people,” said Mr. Jack Roush, chairman of Roush Industries, Inc.

He added that the B-1 itself “just took my breath away.”

“The performance, capabilities and the technology are all inspiring,” said Mr. Roush. “Looking at the whole package today and understanding what we had back then (in the 1980s) and what we’re able to do now with the upgrades -- our military dollars are being well spent.”

NASCAR fans and crews were impressed to say the least during Saturday’s B-1 flyby at the Hershey’s Kissables 300 race.

“The civilians look at (the B-1) and hear about it, and then when they see it (in the air), it increases their patriotism,” said retired Maj. Gen. Thomas Sadler, Speedway Children’s Charities executive director. “It makes them understand (the Air Force) mission.”

Unfortunately, due to poor weather conditions, crews were unable to perform the B-1 flyby Sunday at the Daytona 500.

“Although airborne and prepared to repeat Saturday’s successful performance for (Sunday’s) Daytona 500, we found ourselves quite disappointed that the local weather remained below our required minimums, and we were unable to perform a highly anticipated two-ship flyby,” said Capt. Brian Witkowsky, 34th Bomb Squadron flight commander and Daytona 500 flight lead.

The weather may have stopped Sunday’s B-1 flyby from taking place, but Ellsworth maintainers still spent long hours preparing, launching and recovering jets.

“(This TDY) was definitely one for the record books,” said Senior Airmen Steve Gates, 37th Aircraft Maintenance Unit dedicated crew chief. The maintenance team replaced two B-1 tires along with a number of other flight critical components.

“The people at the race track depended on the flybys and were excited to see them,” said Airman Gates. Those events “depended on what we did.”

The group also planned to maintain only two aircraft, but a third was needed to support the weekend’s events.

“The maintenance team overcame quite a few obstacles,” said Master Sgt. Mark Allgauer, 28th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron production superintendent. “We weren’t manned for three aircraft, but the team multi-tasked and used all available resources.” In the end, “the jets were ready to meet each and every sortie planned.”

Sergeant Allgauer added that even with the pressure of a national TV audience and the hype built up throughout the track, the team “met all the challenges and the jets were up and running and prepared to go. Everything was done by the books from (foreign object damage) walks to technical data.”

In all, the successes of the weekend were a team effort.

“The weekend was truly highlighted by the teamwork and mission-focused dedication of Sergeant Allgauer’s maintenance team and the flight crews, and it would have been impossible to accomplish what we did without the professionalism and hard work of all involved,” added Captain Witkowsky. “The Daytona 500 weekend is an event which everyone dreams of participating in -- great crowds, high energy and great exposure for the B-1 and Ellsworth.”