NORFOLK, Va. (NNS) -- The 2012 NASCAR champion driver, Brad Keselowski, visited Sailors of the Navy's newest aircraft carrier, USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) and the "Tridents" of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 9 at Naval Station Norfolk, April 19.
The visit was in preparation for the Coca-Cola 600 race at Charlotte Motor Speedway during Memorial Day weekend, where the speedway will host a large scale, pre-race, military appreciation event.
To add a unique twist to the event, Keselowski first visited the Navy Exchange where he was fitted for a set of Navy coveralls and given a nametape, command ball cap and belt, in order to truly experience what it is like to be a Sailor.
During his tour of Ford, Keselowski learned about various parts of the ship from different subject matter experts and was able to see what it really took to make a ship work.
"I think my expectations were to see the latest and greatest technology, and a lot of people making it happen," said Keselowski. "I had no illusions of how many people it took to operate a carrier and I didn't know specifically what the new technology was going to look like. I would say it surpassed my expectations."
Keselowski said his favorite part of the ship was the electromagnetic aircraft launching system (EMALS), a new type of launching system specific to Ford-class carriers that uses electromagnets to propel aircraft off the flight deck as opposed to the older, steam-driven shuttle system.
"I like the ability to utilize new technology for a changing battlefield," said Keselowski. "That's just keeping up with the change of pace and change of flow that is so necessary to remain relevant in the modern world and in the future space. It's clear that's what that technology enables."
At the end of the tour, Keselowski met with Ford Sailors on the flight deck who were chosen to represent the ship during the Coca-Cola 600 race.
"I think it was really cool that Brad took the time to come out to the ship and meet the crew," said Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kiana Raines. "It was a special day for the Sailors. You won't find a prouder crew, and this gives them one more thing to be proud of."
From there, Keselowski visited HSC-9, where he was given a tour of the hangar and facilities before taking a familiarity flight in one of their SH-60S Sea Hawk helicopters.
"It was a thrill to host Brad," said Lt. Cmdr. Chris McDonald, HSC-9's operations officer. "Our Sailors got a real kick out of meeting the man behind the car, and he seemed to thoroughly enjoy his visit and familiarization flight. I know his [Checkered Flag] Foundation gives a lot back to our fellow service members, so it was an honor to take him up in the air and show him firsthand what we do."
While it was a short flight primarily around the naval station, the crew had a good time with the driver and even took a minute to get in an old, time-honored, NASCAR jab.
"We made sure to go real fast and only turn left, so he seemed pretty comfortable with that," said Naval Air Crewman (Helicopter) 2nd Class George Parsons, the helicopter's crew chief.
Keselowski said he has visited other carriers, branches, squadrons and even flown in helicopters in the past, but this was his first visit to Ford and his first flight in a Sea Hawk.
"To me, this is a tremendous opportunity to see our nation's heroes on the active side," said Keselowski. "It's a great chance to engage - sometimes I think we rely on people to come to us - but sometimes you've got to go to the people. This is a great chance for us to go to the people, the men and women that are serving, and see them in their workspace."
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