Race Weekend Central

The Story of Truck Series Owner Al Niece: A Marine in Vietnam – Part 2

This article is dedicated to the Marines of Lima Company, Third Battalion, Third Marines from 1967-68.

In the Summer of 1967, NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series team owner Al Niece cuddled his standard issue M16A1 rifle in a fighting hole with his fellow marines and slept in the dirt of the dense hot jungles of South Vietnam.

Sergeant (Sgt.) Niece was part of a unit that had been tasked with patrolling Route 9, a highway that stretched across the northern part of South Vietnam and into Laos near the demilitarized zone (DMZ) border with the enemy North Vietnam. It was a common infiltration route for the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) to sneak into.

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The Story of Truck Series Owner Al Niece: A Marine in Vietnam - Part 1

It was hot and muggy. Rain often filled the holes he and his fellow marines slept in, making dirty conditions all the more uncomfortable. What was worse, however, was the constant threat of having your position discovered by enemy patrols.

And on this day, it was.

Niece was shaken awake by the sound of enemy rifle fire, and his fellow marines responded with a volley of their own. He and his comrades, experienced veterans by this time in the conflict, withstood the barrage and found cover to repel the engagement.

A squad leader, Niece shouted orders to the marines under his direction as the sound of gunfire blanketed their position and the smell of burning cordite enveloped his nostrils.

This was combat. It was sensory overload, and after spending months in country, it was something Niece had experienced before time and time again.

“[Combat]’s hard to explain,” Niece told Frontstretch as he remembered the engagement. “It gets your attention real quick. … It happens quick. You just try to fall back on what you were taught and previous engagements what you’ve learned.

“It brings out qualities in every individual. Some just hunker right down and get to the task, and others, they just can’t handle it.”

Even amidst the chaos of combat, Niece and the rest of his unit homed in on their training and experience repelling the attack well into the midday with the constant threat of death looking on as they did what they had done for so many months.

But then the small marine unit’s commanding officer – a lieutenant of only 22 years of age – was killed in the firefight.

The unit still had to end the engagement, and Sgt. Niece, who was the next highest rank in the group, had to take control to save his fellow marines that were pinned down from the enemy gunfire. He had to lead his comrades out of the firefight.

“I didn’t do anything different from everybody else,” Niece remembered of his 22-year-old self. “Most of these guys, they were 18-19 years old and thrust into some sort of leadership position.”

Today, Niece remembers the gunfight well, but in 1967, that was just another day in Vietnam, and Niece had many like it over the course of almost 13 months.

The fighting was constant, with engagements occurring around three to four times a month, according to Niece. So, when his tour ended in early 1968, the young Texan took in as much rest and relaxation time as he possibly could.

Only days away from shipping back to the states, Niece was sent back to Da Nang for rest. There, he ordered a chocolate malt, a burger and some popcorn and went to see a movie. The base was screening Taming of the Shrew.

Niece, forever changed by his combat experiences, sat in his theater chair, watching actress Elizabeth Taylor. It was the first movie he had seen in over a year.

After 13 months of experiencing a brutal and costly war, without the threat of an enemy soldier sneaking where he slept nor the threat of being ambushed from an enemy patrol, Sgt. Niece finally relaxed.

He remembered every detail about his trip home. From spending the night in El Toro, California, to being scared to death by his dad driving 60 mph on the car ride home. It was the fastest the future NASCAR team owner had gone in over a year.

He was happy to be back in the United States, but his time in the Marines wasn’t over just yet.

Because of his rank, Niece was allowed to select where he went next, and since he chose to be on the frontlines when he was first drafted in 1966, Niece decided to continue his time of being with the best.

He picked the elite unit of Marine Force Recon, albeit for only a few months.

“With Force Recon, we became familiar with every kind of weapon,” Niece recalled. “Those were the segments that made military life exciting for me.”

In training, Niece experienced the same type of brutal exercises many Navy SEAL recruits do today in Coronado. He experienced time on a submarine, went to airborne school and jungle warfare school.

“I was single at the time,” Niece said. “What else are you going to do?”

When his contract ended in late June 1968, however, Niece decided not to reenlist. He rejoined the civilian workforce.

Niece went to school for mechanical engineering. The former hotrodder wanted to return to the hobby he loved: cars. That, of course, included racing.

Enter NASCAR.

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“When I got back,” Niece said. “I had a late model. Then I had a drag boat. Then I had a sprint car. Then I bumped into a friend that was partially sponsoring a NASCAR driver. I went up there and helped him out a few times.”

That was where Niece got involved in the truck division. An owner of a truck watering company, Niece decided sponsoring a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series team made sense.

“I could justify it in my mind,” Niece said of his sponsorship. “Why sponsor a car when I have trucks?”

Thus, Niece Motorsports was born. However, even though the small team saw an explosion of success from drivers like Ross Chastain later on in its existence, the Truck team was originally made for Niece to drive himself.

He was 70 years old when the team made its first NASCAR start.

“I bought a NASCAR truck,” Niece said. “I had illusions that I could possibly qualify to drive two races, but I felt like I was going to have to invest more time than I could.”

While he never drove, Niece’s small Truck Series team has grown into a multi-truck empire that has hosted a number of famous drivers and has competed for championships four times. That’s not including when they will again this year, as full-time driver Carson Hocevar has already qualified for the postseason with his win at Texas Motor Speedway.

It’s been 55 years since Sgt. Niece stepped off that plane when he returned to the U.S. after 13 months of hard fighting, but the memories still remain.

This Memorial Day weekend, Niece Motorsports will return to Charlotte Motor Speedway to defend the win they earned with Chastain one year ago. But to Niece, Memorial Day weekend means a little more.

It’s about an experience of comradery and remembrance. And of course, it’s a reminder of one of the best decisions he ever made, dating back to that draft card he received in the mail all the way back in 1966.

“It was a good decision,” United States Marine Sgt. Niece said. “I’ve never regretted a day of it.”

About the author

Dalton Hopkins began writing for Frontstretch in April 2021. Currently, he is the lead writer for the weekly Thinkin' Out Loud column and one of our lead reporters. Beforehand, he wrote for IMSA shortly after graduating from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2019. Simultaneously, he also serves as a First Lieutenant in the US Army.

Follow Dalton on Twitter @PitLaneLT

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Steven

Great story, I’m a Niece fan now.

janice

as i said last week, welcome home sgt. niece.

awesome story. i’m old enough to remember all of this.

Hogs&Horsepower

Great story, thank you too all who have served and are currently serving!

Johnny Cuda

Many thanks to Sgt. Niece, to all who have served, and to all who are serving this great country of ours. And thank you to all of their families as well. God Bless America.

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