Nadeau Spends Day With Coast Guard

PORTSMOUTH, Va. -- NASCAR Winston Cup driver Jerry Nadeau has his own boat and jet-ski, but neither can compare to the United States Coast Guard vessels he piloted May 4 at the Group Hampton Roads Coast Guard Base in Portsmouth, Va.

Nadeau and the race team are partners with the United States Coast Guard for the "Tribute to Freedom in the Millennium" event. As part of the program, the No. 25 Chevrolet will carry a special Coast Guard paint scheme for the May 28 Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway at Charlotte, N.C.

Master Chief Petty Officer Vince Patton, the highest-ranking enlisted person in the Coast Guard, attended a recent NASCAR Winston Cup Series race as a guest of Hendrick Motorsports. He returned the hospitality and invited Nadeau and team president John Hendrick to join him for a day out on the water.

"It was a great thrill to be behind the scenes to see a NASCAR race unfold," Patton said. "I have a great amount of respect for the people you don't often notice during a race, such as the racing team coordinators, pit crew, maintenance and support. They have to build a tremendous amount of teamwork and confidence in each other to make things happen effectively and efficiently -- much like our Coast Guard members.

"Anytime I can have an opportunity to show off my 'Coast Guard toys,' I'm always thrilled. I'm so very proud of what my Coast Guard members do and the dedication they have. Sometimes I feel like the 'proud papa' showing off his kids."

Nadeau and Hendrick started the day with a tour of the command center at the base and then boarded a 27-foot rescue boat to meet the Coast Guard cutter Aquidneck in the Chesapeake Bay. As the boat headed into open water, Petty Officer 2nd Class David Trinko turned the controls over to Nadeau, who was visibly relaxed and at-home behind the wheel as he approached speeds of more than 40 knots.

Nadeau and Hendrick then joined Master Chief Patton on the Aquidneck, a vessel used for missions that last up to six weeks, often assisting immigration officials and drug enforcement authorities. Lt. Kevin Jones, the ship's commanding officer, led them on a tour of the vessel and gave Nadeau a quick lesson in search-and-rescue (SAR) missions. After watching the crew of the Aquidneck practice the "man overboard" drill once, Nadeau took the helm and completed the same SAR mission in less than four minutes -- faster than the executive officer of the ship.

"It was neat to do an assignment like that," Nadeau said. "They threw 'Oscar' the dummy overboard and we had to turn the boat around and pick him up. You had to be careful not to run him over -- that boat didn't exactly have as tight a turning radius as my race car."

A 47-foot SAR vessel, under the command of Petty Officer 3rd Class Brian Satterfield, arrived at Aquidneck to transport the guests back to base. The ship is the newest in the Coast Guard fleet and often is used in dangerous situations since it is built not to capsize. Back at the base, Nadeau and Hendrick took to the skies for a demonstration of a SAR helicopter's agility over open water. Once back on solid ground, Nadeau signed autographs for Coast Guard members and was presented a Coast Guard flag signed by the entire Group Hampton Roads command center.

"It was a lot of fun," Nadeau said. "I learned a lot about the Coast Guard and how much time they actually spend on the water. I appreciate everything they do and I have a lot of respect for every one of those people out there."

At Richmond (Va.) International Raceway the next day, 12 Coast Guard representatives toured the garage area before presenting the team with a specially designed life preserver. In return, the team gave the Coast Guard representatives a piece of sheet metal from the Chevrolet signed by all of the team

"I got a phone call first thing Monday morning from a couple of the members telling me how excited they were to have gone to the race," Patton said. "The piece of sheet metal will be proudly displayed at one of their units. I believe they're fighting over who gets 'custody.'

"I hope to see a continuing partnership with the race team as a way to help us continually raise the visibility of the often forgotten but proud fifth branch of the U.S. Armed Forces," Patton said. "Both the race team and offer a wide and diverse audience of people who should learn more about what their Coast Guard has done, and continues to do, with a great deal of pride and professionalism."

Nadeau's involvement with the Coast Guard might have involved a three-hour tour of the Chesapeake Bay, but had there been a shipwreck, Nadeau would not have been stranded on an uncharted desert isle. Instead, the proud members of the Coast Guard surely would have rescued him in time to climb into the driver's seat for his next race.

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