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NASCAR driver Tony Stewart talks with Marine Sgt. Rick Tack (left) and Gunnery Sgt. Nick Chaplain yesterday. Both were injured in Iraq.
Tony Stewart talks with racing fans during a stop at Marine Corps Base Quantico yesterday to visit wounded Marines.
By RUSTY DENNEN
On any given weekend in NASCAR's racing season, driver Tony Stewart is greeted by thousands of cheering fans.
But yesterday at Marine Corps Base Quantico, it was Stewart, the two-time Sprint Cup Series champion, who was doing the cheering for a couple of wounded Marines.
Stewart stopped by to say thanks for their service, and later, to meet fans on Barnett field on base.
Meeting with reporters briefly before speaking privately with two wounded Marines, Stewart said he often thinks about the sacrifices troops and their families endure.
"We only get to do what we do because of the job [they] do."
Stewart, who drives the No. 14 Office Depot-Mobil 1 Chevrolet, said. "People don't realize how tough these soldiers are until they see it firsthand. I think if everybody could spend 30 minutes at a camp to see what these young men and women are doing to sacrifice for our country, the perception would change, and I think you'd see a lot more support for them."
Later, Stewart sat down privately with Gunnery Sgt. Nick Chaplin and Sgt. Richard Tack, both of whom were wounded during tours in Iraq.
Chaplin would only say about his injuries, "I was in the wrong place at the wrong time." His left foot was bandaged and he had a slight limp when he walked.
Tack, who is getting out of the Marines today, said his unit was hit with an improvised explosive device and he was shot during two tours in Iraq.
Away from the cameras and microphones, Stewart told them about what it's like to whip around a track at 200 mph and about the Sprint Cup cars as three other Marines standing nearby joined the group. Each Marine got an Office Depot Tony Stewart cap, and Stewart handed them one of his NASCAR coins.
Bob Critcher, a former Marine who works with the Wounded Warrior Regiment at Quantico, said such visits help in the healing process.
"Trauma is trauma. We know how to fix a lot on the medical side. But you need [opportunities] where guys can leave regimented activities" such as hospitals and physical therapy sessions.
"People like Tony bring a little sense of normalcy and a different environment all together."
About 800 Marines wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan are under the care of the Marines' wounded warrior program.
The Wounded Warrior Regiment is headquartered at Quantico. Its two battalion components are at Camp Lejeune, N.C., and Camp Pendleton, Calif. It has detachments at various medical centers around the world. Stewart visited wounded Marines at Camp Lejeune last year.
Critcher said four other wounded Marines at Walter Reed Army Medical Center were to be among those meeting Stewart, but yesterday morning's storms made that unfeasible.
Four others were not there for a different reason: They were turkey hunting somewhere on base.
Critcher smiled. "Well, if you haven't hunted all year and you have a chance to
Stewart, himself a turkey hunter, understood.
"We've got wounded warriors turkey hunting on our [Indiana] property on Fridays and Saturdays. It's our way of saying thanks."
Stewart wrapped up his swing by Quantico at the base's Servmart customer appreciation day at the nearby Barnett parade field where Office Depot had a tractor-trailer gift shop, free food, Stewart's race car and a stock car simulator.
Among about 200 people queued up for autographs were diehard Stewart fans Cynthia Lewis of Fredericksburg and Melissa Corradetti of Alexandria, who work on base.
Lewis had her hands full: She got Stewart to sign a rear deck panel of a car he drove at the Charlotte race last May. She got the panel from a friend who bought it at a silent auction.
Also on hand were Kim Beaudine of Stafford, and sons Tyler and Ethan.
Tyler was on a mission, too: "I want to meet Tony Stewart and get an autograph for my dad."
Rusty Dennen: 540/374-5431
Tony Stewart is one of NASCAR's premier drivers. He currently stands third in the Sprint Cup Series point standings.
A native of Columbus, Ind., where he still lives, Stewart drives the No. 14 Office Depot-Mobil 1 Chevrolet.
Stewart is among the field tomorrow night at Richmond International Raceway.
He had this to say about the race: "Richmond is where I got my first win, so it's my favorite track."
Though he hasn't done well there in the last couple years, "It's always been a special place. It's only three-quarters of a mile and it's always been a driver's track."
The Marine Corps' Wounded Warrior Regiment provides family support, clinical services staff to help with care coordination, chaplains, recovery care coordinators, job transition assistance, liaisons with the Department of Veterans Affairs and 23 support offices around the country and overseas.
Two wounded warrior battalions, based at Camp Lejeune, N.C., and Camp Pendleton, Calif., have medical detachments, including at Landstuhl (Germany) Regional Medical Canter; the National Naval Medical Center, Bethesda, Md.; Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Washington; Tripler Army Medical Center, Hawaii; naval hospitals in Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, California and Japan; Brooke Army Medical Center, Texas; Veterans Administration polytrauma centers in Minnesota, Florida and California; and Andrews Air Force Base, Md.
Marines and their families can contact the Sergeant Merlin German Wounded Warrior Call Center any time, toll-free, at 877/487-6299.