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John Sturbin: Edwards Takes SWAT At Crime In Texas, NASCAR

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, March 22 2012

Carl Edwards talked about crime and punishment during an appearance in Texas on Wednesday. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

FORT WORTH, Texas – Carl Edwards jumped out of the top window of a six-story building here Wednesday afternoon, but it wasn’t because of the reversal of penalties levied by NASCAR against archrival Jimmie Johnson.

The lone three-time Sprint Cup Series race-winner at Texas Motor Speedway, Edwards took part in a training session with Sgt. Todd Plowman and members of Fort Worth’s SWAT – Special Weapons and Tactics – team at the Fort Worth Police & Fire Training Center. Edwards’ promotional visit was on behalf of the Samsung Mobile 500 night race set for Saturday, April 14, on TMS’ 1.5-mile quadoval. “Cousin Carl,” driver of the No. 99 Fastenal Ford Fusion fielded by Roush Fenway Racing, finished third in the event last spring.

Known for his strength and conditioning regimen, Edwards’ training at the facility near downtown Cowtown was highlighted by an accelerated session with Daniel McCreery, the team’s rappelling master instructor. So, what was the view from the top floor of a six-story building like?

“You should go stand up there on the top of the tower. That’s pretty wild,” said Edwards, who confirmed that team co-owner Jack Roush had no idea he was going to be rappelling on this visit. “I didn’t know I was going to be rappelling – not that high. That first step out the window is tough. It’s very tough. But those guys rappel off the roof of that thing – they said they can clear that whole building in three seconds,

Carl Edwards jumps out of a window during his trip to Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)

from top-to-bottom. It took me about 30 seconds to get down, and I don’t think I breathed much the whole way.

“That’s a lot like driving the car 205 miles per hour down in a corner for the first time of the weekend at Texas. You’re like, ‘Man, I hope this works out. I hope all the nuts and bolts are tight.’ These guys make it look so easy and after doing it I can tell you it isn’t as easy as it looks, especially if you’re going down head-first.”

Once he safely had returned to terra firm, to the applause of assorted police personnel and media, Edwards watched McCreery glide down the side of the building head-first.

“He was showing-off,” Edwards deadpanned. “He had to make me look bad.”

On a more serious note, Edwards was diplomatic in commenting on Tuesday’s reversal of penalties handed out by NASCAR to Johnson and his No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet Impala team during opening-day inspection for the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway. On Feb. 17, NASCAR’s garage police found what they insisted were illegal C-posts – the rear-most posts between the roof of the car and the body – on the Hendrick Motorsports entry.

NASCAR later slapped Johnson with the loss of 25 driver points; the loss of 25 owner points for team-owner/four-time series champion Jeff Gordon; six-race suspensions for Johnson crew chief Chad Knaus and car chief Ron Malec and a $100,000 fine for Knaus.

All but the monetary penalty were rescinded by John Middlebrook, National Stock Car Racing chief appellate officer, following a final appeal hearing with team-owner Rick Hendrick. Knaus and Malec, however, remain on probation until May 9.

“I think that whatever NASCAR decides and after all the processes that were gone through – the initial penalty, the appeal, the next appeal – if they decided that points weren’t the right thing to do there, then that’s what they decided,” said Edwards, well-versed in the importance of securing every Cup point. He and Tony Stewart completed the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup deadlocked in points last November, with Stewart winning his third championship via the most-wins tiebreaker.

“I’ve never seen the piece (C-post), I don’t know what was wrong with the No. 48 car, so I guess it’s whatever NASCAR decides,” said Edwards, who fell from sixth to 14th in points after an early-race wreck at Bristol Motor Speedway last Sunday resulted in a 39th-place finish. “They usually in the long run are pretty fair with penalties and judgment calls and things like that.”

But Edwards, who qualified on-pole for the Daytona 500, did admit he was surprised at the almost complete reversal by Middlebrook.

”I think it was a surprise to a lot of people,” said Edwards, who also finished second in Cup points in

Chad Knaus is a free man, much to the surprise of some in NASCAR – including Carl Edwards. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

2008. “I’ve been through the appeals process and it can be really frustrating. I just don’t know enough about it. I heard second-hand it happened it had been reversed. I hadn’t been following that particular issue.”

Edwards, whose best finish through the first four races of 2012 is a fifth on the 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway, said last weekend’s result on the half-mile Bristol bullring was particularly frustrating.

“This thing’s always a challenge,” said Edwards, who incredibly, has not led a lap this season. “This sport is tough. It doesn’t matter what you did yesterday, it doesn’t matter what you did last week – it’s about what you’re doing today to make yourself and your team the best they can be and put yourself in position to win. So our mission this year is our Fastenal team is going to win the championship. That is it. Our mission is to get every point we can, get every win we can and hopefully be the Sprint Cup champions.

“I’m excited to go to some of these tracks that are coming up. We enjoy going to California this weekend. This Texas race is awesome. I think a 500-mile race, Saturday night under the lights at Texas – I mean, this is NASCAR racing. This is what people are excited about. And hopefully, we can get a victory there. We were second at the last race (AAA Texas 500 in November) and we know how to win here. We’d like to go do it.”

In 14 starts at TMS, Edwards has logged three wins, five top-5s, six top-10s and led 493 laps. In 2008, he became the first Cup driver to sweep both races in Fort Worth in the same season.

“We’d like to be leading the points (leaving TMS),” said Edwards, who is teamed with crew chief Bob Osborne. “We got to the point last year where we were leading the points almost the whole season, we know what it takes. We’ve just got to get our act together here a little bit and get focused. We want to be on top of those standings.”

Meantime, Edwards immersed himself into his SWAT experience, observing as TMS President Eddie Gossage fired a 40mm Grenade Launcher, Benelli M4 12-gauge semi-automatic shotgun and Colt M4 Commando 5.56mm carbine with suppressor.

Edwards later took part in a live tactical “scenario.” Edwards was briefed with the SWAT team regarding a situation dubbed “Operation Gossage.” The premise was that SWAT intelligence had learned Gossage was being held “hostage” by none other than Stewart in a “NASCAR safe house.” The delusional suspect, also known as “Smoke,” reportedly was panicked over defending his Sprint Cup crown and was armed with Gossage in-hand.

Edwards observed as members of the SWAT team, arriving in their Lenco BearCat armored personnel carrier, swarmed the house. A flash-bang grenade that shattered eardrums quickly led to Stewart’s surrender and Gossage’s emotional rescue.

“I’m glad they rescued Eddie. I think as much as he pays us to win his races he is worth saving,” Edwards joked. “That was big. Nobody wants Eddie Gossage held hostage _ at least none of the racers do.”

Edwards proved to be an ideal student. His experience to reacting quickly and the ability to handle the adrenaline rush are some of the characteristics typical of the 26-member Fort Worth SWAT team.

“Carl did an excellent job today,” said Sgt. Plowman, a seven-year SWAT member and the on-site supervisor. “With him being a NASCAR driver, you can tell he’s an adrenaline junkie and that’s our kind of guy, so he was right at home with us. He asked a lot of questions about our work and showed a lot of interest in what we do and we respect that. His enthusiasm throughout the entire event was awesome and we had a great time with him.

“It’s just good that not only Carl’s here but also the media and we can kind of see that everybody appreciates what we do. It was just cool having a celebrity here and we could have a fun day. The guys had fun planning it all out.”

Edwards particularly was intrigued by the Lenco BearCat – short for Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counter Attack Truck. Manufactured in Pittsfield, Mass., the $250,000 vehicle is based on a Ford F-550 chassis and powered by a 6.0-liter turbodiesel engine. But the only stock part visible was the “Ford” steering wheel.

“That (Ford connection) was important to Carl,” Sgt. Plowman said of a vehicle sporting 17,000-pounds of 1.5-inch-thick armor, ballistic glass, specially designed gun ports, roof hatches/turret and battering ram. At the mall, this vehicle parks wherever it wants.

”We take that on every operation that we do,” Sgt. Plowman said. “If it’s a serious thing like a hostage situation or barricaded person, we really use it as a tool and for cover. Like the high-risk search warrants that we do, it goes with us all the time. We usually don’t deploy with it because it’s marked with POLICE _ we keep it back. But it’s always with us in case we need it.”

Plowman, a 20-year member of the FWPD, said the SWAT team typically might face three hostage situations in any one year. “But we have major crises every week,” said Sgt. Plowman, who included suicide attempts on the list. “We have barricaded gunmen, people that are heavily armed barricaded in a house – bad guys that have to be taken into custody. We do a lot of that.

“The most (activities) that we do are run high-risk narcotics search warrants. Our narcotics drives are every day. Usually we come in every day – we’ll get a workout in because we have to stay in shape – and then my phone starts ringing from different narcotic units either within our city or outside our city that want us to hit places. We run a lot of those every week. We could have two or three of those a day.

“And then we deal with anything else that comes up. I mean, whatever the police can’t handle – they don’t have proper equipment, they don’t have the proper training, it’s too dangerous – SWAT gets called out to figure it out. That’s the tactics part of it and that’s what we try to specialize in.”

Sgt. Plowman noted the 26-member SWAT unit stands as the elite in a department of 1,600 officers. “Usually when a member gets on, most of them stay at least 10 years,” said Sgt. Plowman, a native and resident of nearby Weatherford. “It’s a very coveted position. We kind of like to think of it as the cherry on top of the pie of the law enforcement community. So once you get here, people stay. Positions don’t come open often and when they do, it’s a big deal, especially in a large department like this. It’s a very big deal.”

Edwards, in turn, said he was impressed by the fitness, discipline and camaraderie he witnessed.

“These guys are fit, they’re tough. I mean, these are guys that are fit because their life depends on it. So this is a different level of fitness,” said Edwards, who was appointed to the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition in June 2010. “I got just a little bit of time to talk to them about the things that are going through their minds while they’re doing their jobs. I think the thing that struck me most is all this training and everything is about public safety and officer safety. It’s about serving the community and it’s neat to see guys that are that dedicated to the community.

“These law enforcement officers, when they’re pulling you over (for a traffic infraction), they’re not your favorite people. But when somebody needs something, these guys go to the call no matter how risky it is, no matter how tough the decisions are going to be made there. I have a lot of respect for what they do and I’m glad they’re out here training and being the best that they can be. That’s inspiring.

“I can’t really imagine what it’s like to live your whole life and know that your phone could ring and you have to go to a situation that could be very, very, very difficult, or impossible. And they’re still going to go, no matter what the odds are. That’s a different way of living your life and it’s one that when you need ‘em, we’re fortunate that they’re there.”

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, March 22 2012
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