A Memorial Day machine: dirt racing for fallen Special Ops soldiers

Special Ops soldiers hold a special place for Mike Evock, who has added the names of the 277 killed in the war on terror to the top of his down-home dirt racer.

Taylor Weidman/The Christian Science Monitor
For Mike Evock (l.) and his pit-crew buddies – current and retired Special Ops soldiers – race car No. 773 is part hobby, part catharsis, part point of pride.

When Special Operations soldier Mike Evock began thinking about retiring from a war that had cut short his youth, he looked to the myriad oval dirt racetracks that dot the South. Skidding sideways on the track could help distract a mind and hands used to warfare.

The result so far is a spotty racing record – but one powerful, crash-tested memorial: Mr. Evock’s 2,100-pound, 715-horsepower dirt-track car carries the names of the 277 Special Ops soldiers who died fighting the war on terror over the past eight years. Evock, who attained the rank of chief warrant officer in the Army, knew some of the fallen personally.

The car, No. 773, is named for Evock’s last Special Ops unit: Operational Detachment Alpha 773, based at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. Evock and his crew have put the names of the soldiers on hand-shaped sheets, which are now the car’s top panels.

IN PICTURES: Famous US monuments and memorials

Evock’s 12-year-old son/tire man, Mike Jr., knows not to power-wash those areas. The side panels, on the other hand, don’t contain any names, because they can get scratched.

On the roof, it says, “All gave some. Some gave all.”

“No, they’re not sponsors,” Evock is used to saying to curious onlookers. Then he leaves them to rub their hands down the aluminum body, sometimes leaving tear streaks in the splattered mud.

For Evock and his pit-crew buddies – current and retired Special Ops soldiers – No. 773 is part hobby, part catharsis. It’s a reminder of the sacrifice of the small fraternity of Special Ops soldiers and a point of pride.

“It’s a very fast [Vietnam Memorial-like] wall, an unfortunate wall,” says Kurt Cook, a pit-crew member.

In Evock’s one major crash, the hood panel popped up and all he could see was the name of his buddy Pedro Munoz, inches from his face.

Whenever No. 773’s bodywork gets too banged up, the crew unbolts the old panels, sometimes giving them away to family members of the fallen. Then they create new panels.

An avid motocross rider who now works as a military training consultant, Evock acknowledges that he had no idea what he was doing when he started racing three years ago.

North Carolina race shop owner J.D. Gunther spotted the team at a race and walked over to talk to Mr. Cook, who was wildly gesticulating to Evock as he mangled his way through the turns.

Since then, the hardened soldiers have become fast friends with the lanky Southern racing man.

The car, Mr. Gunther says, represents something more powerful than a supercharged racing engine – which is why he won’t let Evock put his shop sticker on the car.

“It ain’t nothing to see a man and a woman walk up and find a son’s name on the car,” Gunther says. “I’ve never seen anything like it in all my years of racing.”

No. 773 runs on more than gas, argues Gunther’s son, Jonathan, who ran it in a race last year in Fayetteville, N.C. Jonathan says he felt awed by the names surrounding him as he sat deep in the cockpit. Although No. 773 was underpowered against the other cars, he got through the qualifiers and fought his way to fifth place at the checkered flag.

“I’ve never driven a car that ran so good,” he says. “You couldn’t throw that car off the track. The car was driving itself.”

IN PICTURES: Famous US monuments and memorials


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