In the Pits- MB2
Indy mystique still alive for veteran crewmembers of 01 Army team
Though last month’s running of the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard was NASCAR’s 12th trip to Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the mystique of racing at the fabled track has not lost its luster for three veteran crewmembers of Joe Nemechek’s U.S. Army Chevrolet.
Gale “Bandit” Wilson (62), J.D. (John David) Hilton (55) and Pete Wright (51)—all deeply rooted from the Southeast with a passion for stock cars—continue to have a sincere appreciation for the 96-year-old motorsports facility.
“I felt we were invading holy ground,” recalled Hilton about NASCAR’s first trip in 1994 to Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “I think I had the same feeling as the gladiators did when they walked into the Roman Col-iseum for the first time. Even after 11 year, the feeling of going back to Indy is still special.”
Hilton, a mechanic on the 01 Army team with 28 years of experience as a NASCAR crew person, went on to say the stepchild complex at Indianapolis no longer exists.
“Before we raced there, Indy cars were always made out to be a notch above stock cars,” said Hilton. “But we don’t feel that way now by any means. NASCAR is big, and it’s only fitting we’re racing on the world’s most famous track.”
Wilson, the team’s truck driver and crew assistant, feels his generation has more of an appreciation for what Indy stands for.
“I never thought we would ever see stock cars there,” said Wilson, who has been working the NASCAR circuit for 25 years. “That was a place for those other cars. The history is incredible, and because of those names, my generation has probably more of an appreciation for racing there.”
Wilson said not all NASCAR fans view Indy the same way.
“There are some old diehard NASCAR fans who wouldn’t give two cents for Indy,” offered Wilson. “But if you’re a true racer, Indy is the place to be—it completes the deal.”
Wright has logged more than 30 years in NASCAR and ranks racing at Indy as one of the many thrills he’s enjoyed on the circuit, which includes being part of two Cup championship teams and 69 trips to Victory Lane.
“When I first heard NASCAR might race at Indy, I thought it was a bunch of bull,” said Wright, a gear specialist and co-car chief with the 01 Army team. “I always thought that track was for open-wheel cars and the Indy 500. But when we got there, I felt we were the King.”
“Here we were at the biggest track we’ve ever heard about and the site of the Indianapolis 500. It was a proud moment, even for someone like me who grew up in the heart of stock car country. I’ve been fortunate in my career, but before I call it quits, I want to kiss those bricks.”
Photo cutline: MB2 Crewmembers Gale “Bandit” Wilson, Pete Wright and J.D. (John David) Hilton