Nationwide Series leader Elliott Sadler spends day with Navy pilots, crew

NASCAR driver Elliott Sadler, an Emporia native, spent Tuesday at Oceana.

VIRGINIA BEACH — There are some similarities between the Chevy Impala Elliott Sadler drives in the Nationwide Series and the F/A-18E Super Hornet fighter aircraft the pilots of squadron VFA-81 fly out of Naval Air Station Oceana and on the super carrier USS Carl Vinson.

The speed of the machines and the dependence on large support crews for safety and success compare. What Sadler most empathized with was force of the Super Hornet stopping when going from 150 to zero miles per hour in less than two seconds.

"I had a wreck two years ago at Pocono that was 86 Gs (a NASCAR-record 86 times the force of gravity)," Sadler told Lt. Ben Horn. "I wouldn't want to do your job twice a day."

Sadler is doing just fine in his current day job. The Emporia native leads the Nationwide Series with four victories and holds a 22-point lead over Ricky Stenhouse Jr. atop the standings heading into Friday's race at Bristol. The series makes a stop at Richmond International Raceway on Sept. 7.

He visited Oceana in Virginia Beach on Tuesday to talk NASCAR and fighter planes with the 19 pilots and 180 support staff in a squadron known as the "Sunliners." NASCAR has a long tradition of strong military support and Sadler offered his theory as to why in response to a question from squadron commander Richard Rivera.

"A lot of us are small-town guys who had family in the military," Sadler said. "Living in a small town, it really reinforces the sense of community and how much the troops do for our freedom.

"My dad was in the National Guard and I have many family members in the Army, so my appreciation of what these men and women do every day really runs deep."

Being from the small town of Emporia came with its burdens for Sadler this week. Two teenage girls were killed, and another seriously injured, in Emporia in a car wreck Saturday that Sadler said has shaken the entire community.

"Being from such a small town, when tragedy strikes it affects everybody," he said. "When I went to the grocery store on Sunday, or to a restaurant or to get gas, everybody was talking about it.

"One of the girls that lost her life played on the softball team with my wife and sister-in-law. Another's dad is in my hunt club.

"Any time tragedy strikes like that, it puts life in perspective. Having two kids of my own (son Wyatt, 2, and daughter Austyn, nine months) I cannot absolutely imagine what those families are going through right now."

Sadler said visiting the troops lifted his spirits and he talked to them, and the media, on a variety of subjects.

Driving in a hot car: "It gets to be 135-140 degrees in the car and I lose 10-12 pounds a race. I'll go into a sauna one or two hours at a time to get my lungs used to breathing in hot air."

On the shoe Danica Patrick ran over at Montreal: "It's a good story, but a rubber shoe isn't going to break anything on a 3,500-pound car."

About whether Nationwide should adopt a Chase format: "I think we need to reward the guys who run (Nationwide) every week and not reset the points. And I don't want it to dilute the Sprint Cup Series Chase. It's unique."

Tailgating on the highway: "I don't speed, but I tailgate a lot because my perception (about how close to follow) and somebody else's is going to differ."

Staying in the hunt for the championship: "Winning races has been important. It gets momentum and the right mojo going. If you can't hang your hat on a win, your attitude kind of goes downhill."

Sadler finished his day at NAS Oceana in the cockpit of a Super Hornet flight simulator. At least there, going from 150 to zero mph didn't seem so intimidating.

"That simulator was awesome," he said. "It was a cool experience for me to be able to sit in their cockpit and see the differences between what I do and what they do.

"I actually landed on the aircraft carrier my first time, but when they changed the simulation to night time, I couldn't do a thing. That was a really cool experience."