Race Weekend Central

Full Throttle: Grand Marshal is Grand in More Ways Than 1

The folks at TUMS wanted to have a Grand Marshal for the race this weekend who had provided “quick relief” to a family member. They held an essay contest and invited people to send in their stories about why they should be the Grand Marshal for the day. An independent panel reviewed the hundreds of submissions and narrowed it down to five. Consumers were then asked to visit www.tumsracing.com and vote for their favorite submission. The winner was Robert Hankins of Colorado Springs, Colo.

Hankins, a staff sergeant in the U.S. Army stationed in Iraq, was given a two-week leave to return to the states and fulfill his obligations as the winner of the contest. Hankins is no stranger to Martinsville Speedway. As a Martinsville native, he attended several races there in his youth. After graduating from Magna Vista High School, he enlisted in the Army in 1999 and was deployed to Iraq in April 2003, returning to the States in March 2004. He shipped back out to Iraq in Nov. 2005 for a year, only to return to Iraq with his unit in Nov. 2007 for a 15-month deployment.

While Hankins has been overseas, he has continued to follow NASCAR with 11 of his friends. They are known to wake up early or stay up late to catch races, which are broadcast on Armed Forces Radio. Interestingly enough, 11 of the soldiers cheer for 11 different drivers, which can lead to some rather raucous gatherings – but it does give them something to look forward to during their deployment.

Not only does Robert serve his community through our military, he also served his community in Colorado. While commuting to work at 5:00 a.m. one morning, he noticed a house ablaze in a neighborhood adjacent to the Interstate. Hankins pulled his truck into the neighborhood and found the house that was burning.

He opened the door to find a man with his wife and children wrapped in blankets. He escorted the family out of the house and then noticed that the flames were encroaching on the neighbor’s home. Hankins grabbed the fire extinguisher out of his truck and proceeded to the back of the house to try and contain the blaze. He worked on the house until the fire department arrived and took over. The firefighters told him that his actions very well may have saved the entire neighborhood, not just the family.

After his heroic efforts, Hankins had a case of heartburn and was relieved to find a pack of TUMS in his truck next to where the extinguisher used to reside. The fast relief of TUMS was quite welcome after an extremely hectic morning.

Hankins was like a kid in a candy store this weekend with an ear to ear grin permanently affixed to his face. He was a very personable and humble young man who took his responsibility very seriously and yet enjoyed every second of his NASCAR weekend. He spent time with Richard Petty, got to meet a large number of drivers, gave the command to start the engines, and waved the green flag to start the race.

Knowing NASCAR fans’ affinity for the military, Hankins was a perfect choice to act as the Grand Marshal. He was enthusiastic yet humble. He was articulate and took full advantage of every bit of access he was granted. And when he heads back to Iraq, he’s going to have some great stories to share with his buddies.

About the author

What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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