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Racing for Camp Victory Lane

| Friday, July 9, 2004

BUFFALO TOWNSHIP: On a normal Friday night at Lernerville Speedway, Pure Stock driver Greg Beach hears the roar of high-powered engines and cheers of the crowd.

His nephew and former pit crew member, Jay Thompson, hears more ominous noises on a regular basis.

Gunfire, explosions, the scream of military jets.

Spc. Thompson, 20, is a member of the 458 Engineers Battalion's Company C, which is stationed in Camp Victory, near Baghdad, Iraq. The reserve unit is based in New Kensington. Thompson was activated last fall.

Chicora's Beach, other family members and Thompson stay in contact by e-mail almost daily.

Beach, 27, a rising star in the Pure Stock division, is third in the point standings. He notched his first win May 28 and dedicated the victory to his wife, Tricia, for her birthday.

Beach, who drives the No. 33X car, plans to dedicate his next win to Thompson.

"It's very important," Beach said. "He's over there fighting for something, he's fighting for the freedom we have here. A lot of those guys over there (the Iraqi people) aren't able to do the same things we do here."

However, Beach and his family know Iraq is a dangerous place for Americans and worry about Thompson's safety.

The insurgency, while not as costly as the Vietnam War, has killed almost 1,000 and wounded more than 5,000 U.S. soldiers. Kidnappings and executions of Americans and their allies also have caused concern.

"You never know," Beach said. "It seems like it is one or two of our guys getting killed here and there. These people (the insurgents) just don't care who it is. It could happen to anybody."

During his tour of duty, Thompson has been operating a bulldozer for road work and demolition.

Thompson and his comrades have not been attacked by insurgents or a roadside bomb, but he has heard the rattle of machine guns and the thump of bombs or mortars in the distance, Beach said.

Thompson also has had to endure boiling temperatures -- the thermometer reached 114 degrees in Baghdad Thursday -- and the usual homesickness.

Before being activated, Thompson was studying criminology at Butler Community College. He hopes to become a state police officer.

Thompson helped Beach in the pits when he raced a Sportsman's Speedway in Knox. A teenager at the time, Thompson changed tires, did some repair work and scraped mud. Thompson is a racing fan and follows Beach's progress as much as possible.

In addition to his one checkered flag, Beach has two second-place finishes at the local track. Last year, he ended up third in the point race. He is pursuing his first championship.

Beach said Thompson is expected to return to the area on leave in August and might attend the races at Lernerville.

"I hope to dedicate my next win to him," Beach said. "Hopefully, that will be soon."

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