Saturday, 11 September 2021. As the NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series gear up for a doubleheader at Richmond Raceway, both races will feature a patriotic flair in tribute to those lost in the terrorist attacks that struck the United States twenty years ago. While the political consequences and bloody details of the ensuing war in the Middle East have sparked much debate, the sports world back in America has continued to maintain a somber yet remembering tone throughout the buildup to Saturday.
In NASCAR’s case, many teams will run special liveries, generally featuring patterns such as the American flag or its colours, and the Cup race was dubbed the Federated Auto Parts 400 Salute to First Responders to honour emergency personnel who reported to the sites of the attacks. Fan favourite Dale Earnhardt Jr. will return to driving in the Xfinity event, where his car features a “United for America” paint scheme. Similar tributes took place for the ten-year anniversary in 2011, also at Richmond.
While the Camping World Truck Series does not have a race scheduled for the day, Jim Rosenblum and the #28 Chevrolet Silverado of FDNY Racing almost certainly would have shown up to Richmond if there was. A former sports car racer and New York native who owned Cup cars in the 1980s, Rosenblum has fielded a truck since the inaugural season in 1995; Rosenblum and the Nemechek family at NEMCO Motorsports are the only team owners from that year who have run a Truck race in 2021.
However, a small team with meager funding can only go so far in the racing world. FDNY has never run more than seven races in a given year, has an average finish of just 24.3, and only boasts a single top ten—an eighth at Talladega in 2018 with Bryan Dauzat. In 2021, Dauzat finished nineteenth and thirty-fourth in two starts at Daytona and Pocono, while the team’s owner points were sold to Bret Holmes Racing in March.
So what makes this part-time team so different from its peers?
Following 9/11, Rosenblum transformed Rosenblum Racing into FDNY Racing, a team consisting of volunteers from the New York Fire and Police Departments, the former of whom lost 343 in the attacks. All winnings are donated to the Uniformed Firefighters Widows and Children’s Fund, a foundation to support the families of fallen firefighters from those departments. For approximately six years, the team has also worked with Draf10 Motorsports and the Draf10 Foundation, a 503(c) non-profit organisation aimed at pediatric and educational causes; under the collaboration, all sponsorship monies collected are considered donations and are 100% tax deductible.
While certainly a noble cause, it does not necessarily make the team a weekly contender, let alone during the occasional start. Is there more to FDNY Racing’s feel-good story? Perhaps in its underdog reputation?
NASCAR is often regarded as one of the biggest examples of parity in motorsport, but there will always be teams that comprise the bottom order of the field. Such teams just do not possess the funding and capabilities to keep up with the giants, and that is just a fact that spans virtually every discipline. Even a top twenty is considered a solid day for these operations, and a top ten or five only has the slimmest of chances to occur. Maybe even a win is in the books if something happens to the leaders.
Yet despite the odds against them, they still show up.
This is a sentence that can be applied outside of sports. For firefighters, all blazes are tackled from typical brush fires to the deadliest of wildfires to those from arson and terrorist attacks. When the World Trade Center was hit by the planes on 9/11, divisions upon divisions of FDNY firefighters pulled to the site of the doomed towers. It was clear that the buildings were going to fall and claim many more lives with them.
Yet despite the odds against them, they still showed up.
It is often said that bonds are created in times of challenge or crisis. First responders can certainly attest to this, but it also stretches to other walks of life whether it be the workplace, classroom, or even pit road. An all-volunteer unit of firefighters, police officers, and first responders isn’t fighting to break into NASCAR like others. For a normal Truck crew, their biggest days are battling for the championship. For FDNY’s crew, their biggest days are battling flames to save the lives of others, and it is through those experiences they face that they become closer.
What the operation lacks in equipment and engineering, they make up for with heart and commitment. Despite the odds against them, they still show up to not only race, but to also have fun. A team can only go so far on the track with limited resources, but one’s heart can take them anyway.
Former Fox Sports analyst Ray Dunlap perhaps said it best in a segment on the team prior to the 2015 Truck race at Talladega: “This is a group of guys that goes every week to have a really great time. They know they’re not gonna have a shot to win, but they have fun and I think there’s a lot of people in NASCAR today who have lost sight of that a little bit.
“This group goes out and they have a really good time, but they’ve got a really good cause and they continue to do a great job.”
Dedication, duty, honor, and courage.
These four words are a creed that not only resonates among the firefighters of the FDNY on duty, but also for those crewmen who prepare the red #28 for race day. It is unknown if the team will attempt further races outside of the superspeedways in the future, but this brotherhood of fire will continue to do what they love and for a great purpose.