She’s a Dead(wo)man! by Diana L Kennedy

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There isn’t much that distracts us from watching a good road race, but when we cyber-bumped our way into chatting with Diana during a commercial break, we just had to engage. What entertaining stories she has to share! Below is the tale of one of her adventures while out there  . . . finding her line. We hope you enjoy and discover as we did: that Diana is very much “alive” and we want to hear more from her.

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Posted on April 22, 2010 by Diana L. Kennedy
She’s a Deadman
Reprinted with permission from Diana L. Kennedy
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No, I’m not talking about that final walk being taken by someone on Death Row, nor have I crossed any gun toting Moonshiners or members of the Mafia lately (at least I hope I haven’t!). The kind of Deadman I’m referring to is the kind that mans the fuel valve during a race when the racecar comes into the Pits for refueling. A position born out of safety’s sake, the Deadman holds open a valve just below the fuel supply tank during the refueling process and maintains a watchful eye. In the event that a fire occurs, the Deadman immediately lets go of this spring loaded valve to impede the flow of fuel to the racecar and runs like hell because to do otherwise would surely make you a dead man!

Last weekend during the Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, I had the great privilege of being the Deadman for Freedom Autosport during the Continental Tire Challenge. It was a fluke really. I was walking through the paddock at Barber Motorsports Park late Friday afternoon taking pictures when I happened upon their parked rig. I remembered seeing Freedom during my trip to Daytona for the Rolex 24 – noting that they raced Mazda MX-5’s; the third generation variation of my own Miata. That was already enough to peak my interest but somehow what I failed to notice back then was another, very distinct image which stopped me dead in my tracks and suddenly made my heart race. There on the side of rig, decked out in Red, White and Blue was an icon from my past and something that permeates my life even to this day – the Marine Corps Eagle Globe and Anchor!! I knew immediately that I had to find out what this collaboration was about but unfortunately there was no one around to talk to that afternoon. I made a mental note to come by the next day to pay them a visit before I died of curiosity!

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On Saturday, around noon, I finally had my opportunity to swing back by and pay them a visit. I learned that Freedom Autosport is co-owned by drivers Derek Whitis and Rhett O’Doski. The team fields two Mazda MX-5’s and a Mazda Speed3 and that Whitis and O’Doski, along with the entire racing team, are dedicated contributors to the Wounded Support Fund, which benefits wounded Marines and Sailors in need upon their return from Iraq. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. A racing team that supports our nations troops and commits to donating some of the proceeds to injured Marines? I knew at that exact moment which team I would be pulling for during the race.

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And that’s when my luck really kicked in. Before I knew it I was sitting in one of the cars having my picture taken while crew member and fellow former Marine, Gabe Watson headed off to find Crew Chief Glenn Long. I don’t remember how the subject came up but someone asked if I would like to work for them and I responded in the affirmative thinking, yeah wouldn’t that be fun. I really thought it was a joke until Glenn asked me in all seriousness if I wanted to be the Deadman for the race. It just so happened that my friends Brynley King and Alan Thacker both worked this position for TRG Motorsports during the Rolex 24 so I knew exactly what the job entailed. Of course I said, “YES!”

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The rest was sort of a blur as I was given a uniform shirt, ushered into the toterhome to try it on for size, and formally introduced to veteran racer Randy Pobst who was driving the Speed3 for Freedom that weekend. Randy is also well known for his article, “Pobst Position” published in SCCA’s monthly automobile publication, “SportsCar Magazine”. The very magazine I had received with my recent SCCA membership! This just kept getting better and better!

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I was directed to meet them in the pits at 3:30 pm in time for the race and while I didn’t have a Pit Pass, I deftly tucked my credentials into my shirt and followed my friend Sean Yoder’s advice to “act as if” I belonged there so no one would give me any flack – which of course they didn’t. Since most races are often won or lost in the pits, I was given a quick tutorial on the proper operation of the valve which, believe it or not, can be a bit tricky and certainly requires some upper body strength to manhandle. I was impressed upon how important it was to open the valve all the way prior to the refueler jumping the over the pit wall and to maintain it until either the refueling was completed or, God forbid, a fire broke out, to make sure there was nothing to impede the speed in which the racecar would be refueled.

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p834166833-5 p902086725-5I have to say that while I’ve had some really great opportunities lately, there is nothing like being in the pits and being an active part of a dedicated team during the race. I am so incredibly grateful to have had this experience, to have gotten to know the very special people at Freedom Autosport and as if that weren’t enough, to have been a part of the winning team! Congratulations to Derek Whitis and Tom Long for their amazing win and I would like to express my sincere thanks to each and every one of the Freedom Autosport team for making me feel like one of their own and providing me with a once in a lifetime opportunity. As we say in the Corps, OOH RAH!!!!

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