FORT WORTH — Fabian Hall served his country overseas as a staff sergeant in the Army, and this weekend Richard Petty Motorsports showed its appreciation.
The race team and sponsor Eckrich surprised the veteran Thursday at a Fort Worth supermarket with a visit by Aric Almirola and his No. 43 Ford. The team then invited Hall, an Army cook, to grill meals for the team and its owner, Richard Petty, at Texas Motor Speedway on Friday and Saturday.
“The biggest thing was hearing the car engine coming around the corner,” Hall said Saturday behind the No. 43 hauler. “Everything else has kind of been icing on the cake for me.
“I got a little grilling set and of course the experience of a lifetime.”
Hall came home from the Middle East when he was diagnosed with cancer. The disease is in remission, and Hall is studying culinary arts. He didn’t know exactly what was in store when he made the trip north from San Antonio.
“I thought I was just getting presented with something for my service — getting to hang out with the team. I didn’t know I was going to get all this,” he said.
Hall said his military experience has prepared him to handle surprises and adapt to changing circumstances.
“Cook is one of the most diverse MOS [military occupation specialties] in the Army,” he said.
Getting a weekend with a NASCAR Sprint Cup team was right up his alley.
“I’ve been into cars, period,” Hall said. “Anything that’s on wheels, I’m about it. Who wouldn’t like watching fast cars go around the track?
“Of course, now I’ve gotta go with No. 43.”
Roush Fenway Racing boasts nine victories at TMS — more than twice as many as any other team — and Greg Biffle headed to the track in Roush’s No. 16 Ford as the defending race winner.
Saturday’s race provided an opportunity for the team to see if it could continue its success in the new sixth-generation Sprint Cup cars.
“We really enjoy coming to Texas,” team owner Jack Roush said before the race. “The cars are performing pretty well. There are a lot of unknowns, but we’re optimistic and hopeful.”
The third race of the season was at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, another 1 1/2-mile track, and Roush Fenway spent some time at Kansas two weeks ago.
“The Kansas test provided some very useful information,” Roush said.
When the series arrived in Fort Worth, the teams got a day of testing on Thursday before official NRA 500 practice on Friday.
“Based on the way we practiced, I’m hopeful,” Roush said. “The new car has substantially more downforce than the Gen-5 car.”
Roush driver Carl Edwards suspected engine trouble early in Saturday’s race but was fast at the end and finished third in the No. 99 Fusion. Biffle started 35th after a poor qualifying run but steadily moved toward the front and finished fourth. Rookie Ricky Stenhouse Jr. crashed on lap 43 with a flat tire and finished 40th.
“Something broke or cracked in the tailpipes and I thought the engine was blowing up,” Edwards said. “This was a struggle.”
Sweet motor music
World Wrestling Entertainment Hall of Famer Shawn Michaels led the field to the green flag Saturday night in the pace car. The San Antonio native joined former Ranger C.J. Wilson and actor Vince Vaughn as celebrities who have driven the safety vehicle.
“I’m honored. They don’t let a lot of people do this,” Michaels said Saturday afternoon. “Though they don’t know they probably shouldn’t have let me do it.”
Michaels had his wife and children with him when he practiced driving the pace car.
“The family let me get up to 100 miles an hour before I got scolded,” Michaels said. “I have no idea how these guys come out of those corners at 140, 150 and get right up against the wall.
“I got a stern reprimand from the back seat, but my kids were like, ‘wooo!’”
Michaels said that in 2006 he sat on Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s pit box at TMS. He said his son loved the experience and they’ve been attending races in Denton County ever since.
“My son was very happy with my WWE career,” he said. “Driving the pace car has put me way above WWE in his eyes.”
Other stars on hand included Sara Evans, who headlined the prerace entertainment and sang the national anthem, and Karl Malone, who gave an enthusiastic command to start engines.
Dan Weinberger on Saturday unveiled two new sandwiches that will be sold at his Weinberger’s Deli in Denton. One of the sandwiches is named after NASCAR Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip, and the other was made to honor Cup champion Matt Kenseth.
Kenseth, who is from Wisconsin, chose pepper jack for the creation that includes ham, slaw and chow-chow.
“I like all cheese; I just don’t want to complicate my sandwich,” Kenseth said. “There isn’t a bad cheese, really.”
MATT CRIDER can be reached at 940-566-6906.