Ia Hidden Star:/I Greg Martin

The sweat pours from the bill of Greg Martin’s cap. He’s hoisting tires onto a carrier to take out to pit road, and it’s difficult work.

Later, Martin will don a firesuit for his job as a gas runner, where he’ll transport 22-gallon fuel fillers from his team’s pit stall to the gas pumps and his team’s pit stall.

The hours are long, the work tough and painstaking. But to Martin, it’s relaxation.

That’s not surprising for a guy who served in the Army’s Special Forces in Vietnam, who has worked in law enforcement for 22 years, and who currently trains agents at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Brunswick, Ga.

So when you go from those high-stress jobs to a part-timer on the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, you can chill out a little bit. In a way, Joe Gibbs, for whom Martin works on the weekends, is helping the federal government out by relieving some of Martin’s stress.

Martin didn’t used to have that kind of outlet. When he left Vietnam, he admitted he struggled with his temper.

“With the transition between the military and law enforcement, I had a temper,” said Martin, who works on Bobby Labonte’s No. 18 weekend crew. “Let’s face it, coming from Vietnam back to society was strange. I developed somewhat of a temper.

“I had to really mellow out going to law enforcement. And, now, I’m even more mellow. That’s why I like doing this. This is actually my relaxation, believe it or not. I work five days a week at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center as an instructor, and I come out here to enjoy life. My wife doesn’t understand it.”

But Martin’s wife has learned to deal with it. Monday was the couple’s 27th anniversary.

“You have some bumps in the road,” Martin said, “but you just deal with it.”

Martin has clearly dealt with a lot in his life. He joined the Army at a young age, and fought in combat in Vietnam.

“When I went in, I was young,” Martin said. “I don’t say young and foolish. I saw this guy on a poster with this beret and all this rope, and I said, ‘I want to do something like that.’ I just did it.”

After getting discharged from the Army, law enforcement was a natural extension. Martin has some interesting stories, but he can’t talk too much about them.

“A lot of them have been adjudicated,” Martin said. “I dealt with drugs. That’s about all I can tell you. A lot of high-profile stuff.”

Martin did a lot of undercover work with a lot of high-stress situations. And it’s nothing like “Miami Vice,” he said.

“It’s a lot different than TV,” Martin said. “A lot different than TV.”

When asked if he had any incidents that were life threatening, he answered, “a lot of them.”

“Let’s put it to you this way: I served in Vietnam, too,” Martin said. “That pretty much got me ready for what was to come. You never prepare yourself for being at a point where you’re about to lose your life. But I had a better feeling for it. And I put myself in that position knowing what it was like in Vietnam.

“When I went from Vietnam to law enforcement, I went from the frying pan to the pot. I knew what was to be expected. I knew I could lose my life pretty quick.”

Martin now works for the federal government, but didn’t want to say what agency. Maybe not top-secret stuff, but maybe it is. He trains agents in driving techniques, as well as some law as it pertains to vehicle stops.

Martin jokes that he wants to get Labonte to one of his courses.

“We’re trying to get him to ride with me and show him what it’s like to go through a real road course, sideways,” Martin said. “I’ll show him what loose is.”

Joking aside, Martin said the instruction he gives agents isn’t too far removed from what Winston Cup drivers use.

“They do exactly the same thing,” Martin said. “Line of travel; using the whole roadway; outside, inside, then back outside; don’t hold the vehicle inside – you scrub off speed. When I hear them talking, I tell my students the same.”

Martin has also worked on the federal Sky Marshals program, training agents who will fly on commercial airliners to serve as law enforcement. The program has since moved to another location, but it’s still more secret stuff.

“I can’t go into some of the training they go through,” Martin said. “Let’s just say they go through similar training that an ATF agent goes through. A lot of it is psychological. That’s all I can tell you.”

Sept. 11 changed law enforcement, and it had a profound effect on Martin, too.

“Prior to that, law enforcement was a joke,” Martin said. “Now, we get a lot more respect.”

The Sky Marshal program had been going, but it “was real small in stature.”

“That’s changed,” Martin said. “They’re not only going to be Sky Marshals, they’re going to be investigators, too. They’re not just going to get on a plane and ride from Atlanta to L.A., get off and ride another plane. They’re going to do some investigations.”

Martin, meanwhile, will continue to work his two jobs. Make that three, for he’s a personal trainer on the side, too. Yes, he’s a bit of an adrenaline junkie, but he didn’t get into NASCAR for the rush. He got into it because he liked stock-car racing.

For a few years, though, Martin was unsure of getting into the sport. He’s African-American, and he wondered how he’d be received.

“I’ve always liked NASCAR, but up until 1989, I was always afraid (to get involved),” Martin said. “NASCAR had a stigma attached to it: good ol’ boy. I didn’t know how they’d take to me. I said, ‘I like it, but maybe I better just stay away.’ ”

Martin befriended veteran crewmen like Henry Benfield and Jeff Chandler, and they convinced him otherwise.

“I said, ‘This stigma they attach to NASCAR people, it’s nothing,’ ” Martin said. “Either it’s not fair or people just don’t know what they’re talking about. I enjoy the people. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be here on the weekends. I’ve got better things to do.”

That’s for sure.

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