Racing is a particular passion for Mike Wallace (No. 4 GEICO Ford). But ask Wallace about his offseason trip to Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait and Africa, and that really gets him going.

Wallace joined U.S. Air Force Gen. Dick Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on board Air Force Two for the trip last month. WWE pro wrestler Kurt Angle and actor/comedian Robin Williams were also on the trip, but Williams, the high-energy funnyman, must have seemed rather sedate compared to Wallace?s brothers and fellow NASCAR racers, Rusty and Kenny.

The trip was a favorite subject of conversation for Wallace during the NASCAR Busch Series portion of NASCAR Preseason Thunder. When questioned about the journey during a Fan Fest question-and-answer session last Sunday, Wallace in turn asked if there was anyone in attendance who had either served in the military or had family members currently in the service. When several fans raised their hands, Wallace stood up, thanked them, and then began a round of applause.

Monday, in the infield media center, Wallace was still clearly humbled by the experience.

?You see all this stuff on the news, and you just can?t appreciate it until you see it live,? Wallace said. ?There?s a real war going on over there. There are 18, 19-year-old kids over there with machine guns, grenade launchers and rocket-propelled launchers hanging off their backs. They?re fighting for us to be able to play here at Daytona today.?

Wallace could not pick a single memory that stood out above the rest, because the entire trip had been so incredibly moving. Altogether, the entourage traveled approximately 17,300 miles during the trip, which began Dec. 14 from Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, D.C.

?We could talk all day about [the trip],? Wallace said. ?First of all, when we landed in Baghdad, there is a real war. I?ve never been in a war zone in my life. I?ve never been in the military. You see the pictures on television, but you see men, women ? kids ? with bullet-proof vests on and signs that say, ?Weapons and full armor required.? They?re sitting on top of Humvees with .50-caliber machine guns, loaded. You can see that everything?s been blown to heck over there. Now, we?re in the process of fixing it back up.

?If there?s a single thing [that stood out], it was the appreciation of the troops that we spent the time to go over there. It was an honor to go over there. The troops, the biggest thing they fear is they?re scared the people in the U.S. didn?t remember they were over there. They didn?t want to be forgotten.?


Rain again shortens NASCAR Preseason Thunder testing... Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Bass Pro Shops/Yum Brands Inc./Kraft Nabisco Chevrolet) was fastest on the second day of the NASCAR Busch Series portion of NASCAR Preseason Thunder, featuring cars that finished in the odd positions of the car owner 2003 point standings. Earnhardt posted the 181.036 mph lap just after the lunch break, and just before rain forced the cancellation of further on-track activities for the second day in a row. His Chance 2 Motorsports teammate, Martin Truex Jr. (No. 81 Bass Pro Shops/Yum Brands, Inc./Kraft Nabisco Chevrolet), was second-fastest in the rain-shortened afternoon practice, followed by Mike Wallace, Kevin Harvick (No. 21 Hershey?s Kisses Chevrolet) and David Green (No. 37 Timber Wolf Pontiac) in the top five. Johnny Sauter (No. 27 Kleenex/Scott Brand Products Pontiac) was fastest in the morning session, with a speed of 180.814, followed by Earnhardt at 180.343. Wallace was fourth-quickest, followed by Truex and C.W. Smith (No. 67 Smith Bros. Racing Chevrolet). Several teams were content with only one day of practice, and left when rain forced the cancellation of on-track activities Sunday. Those who headed home included the teams of Joe Nemechek (No. 87 CellularOne Chevrolet), Kasey Kahne (No. 38 Great Clips Dodge), Bobby

Hamilton Jr. (U.S. Marines Corps Ford), Curtis Markham (No. 18 MBNA Chevrolet), Mike Bliss (No. 20 Rockwell Automation Chevrolet), Michael Waltrip (No. 99 Aaron?s Sales & Lease Chevrolet), Donnie Neuenberger (No. 52 Means Racing Ford) and David Keith (No. 95 Sadler Racing Ford). Cars finishing in the even car owner positions in 2003 hit the track Tuesday and Wednesday, with Thursday scheduled as a rain date.

Cope to run for Robinson... Former Daytona 500 champion Derrike Cope has agreed to drive the No. 49 Advil Liqui-Gels Ford fielded by Jay Robinson Racing at Daytona. Cope ran seven races for the team in 2003, scoring finishes of 13th in the season opener at Daytona and 14th at Talladega.

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