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04-25-09, 07:29 AM
A moving memorial
Bearing the names of Marines who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan, this dragster is more than just a car to military families.

By Heather Stauffer, Sentinel Reporter, April 24, 2009

Last updated: Friday, April 24, 2009 3:53 PM EDT

Row on straight row, the names on Jeff McGaffic’s memorial funny car stand at attention like the Marines they represent.

There are more than 600 of them, and by the time the project is completed, there will be about 1,260.

“We do this as a fundraiser for the families of fallen Marines,” McGaffic said. They’re also trying raise awareness of the struggles those families face, and that often takes precedence.

For example, McGaffic said, he hails from Pittsburgh, so he took the car to the car show there. A family from Virginia heard about it and drove in to see it, and when they arrived, they asked if they could put their son’s name on the car.

“It’s hard to explain how you feel when a family thinks that much of what you’re doing,” he said. “It really means something.”

At a show in Cincinnati a couple came up and said they weren’t “car people” but wanted to put their son’s name on this one. They did, he said, and the next day the husband returned.

“Just stood there for two and a half hours with his hand on the car by his son’s name,” McGaffic said. Both of them came the next day, and that time they spent about three hours by the car.

As it happened, McGaffic said, a news crew showed up to do an interview with him, and the reporter asked if he planned to race the car. He replied that it had been his original plan to, but having seen what a symbol the car had become to people across the nation, he wasn’t sure if he could anymore.

Suddenly McGaffic felt a hand on his shoulder, and the man said, “If your mission was to race this car and you don’t race it, you’re going to let down all these Marines.”

So, McGaffic said, “I will race this car.”

But it’s not happening this weekend, he said. The car has 8,000 horsepower and there are only two dozen places in the country where it can be raced legally. The “funny car” title comes from the infant days of drag-racing, when people started modifying ordinary cars, which made them look “funny,” McGaffic said.

Fast cars

Today, funny cars are custom built, and they are classified by the fuel they use. Some use alcohol and can hit up to 260 mph, McGaffic said, and others use nitromethane and can reach speeds of up to 360 mph.

His is a nitro car, McGaffic said, noting that the substances used to blow up the Murrah Federal Building included 100 gallons of nitromethane. To put its power in perspective, he said, it takes his car 20 gallons of nitromethane to run the quarter-mile drag strip track.

It’s not a good idea to run a nitro funny car engine for more than about 4.8 seconds, McGaffic said, and both starting and stopping generate powerful G-forces. Before climbing aboard, riders don protective gear, including nine layers of flame-retardant material.

McGaffic doesn’t have military connections himself. He said he started thinking about the project in 2004, when he had the then-black-and-yellow car at an event and a guy just kept standing there and looking at it. He learned that the man had been part of the extraction force that captured Saddam Hussein and was home on leave.

“He’s back in Afghanistan now,” McGaffic said, adding that the man said he decided to re-enlist just because the media coverage that he saw was so different from the reality that he witnessed on the field. “So far he’s been safe.”

McGaffic, who owns J&B Motorsports, said that conversation encouraged him to do something to help the Marines and their families. Eventually he joined forces with Fueled by the Fallen, a non-profit organization that does just that by way of a car for each branch of the military.

The car that once sported Steelers colors is now the blue of a Marine’s dress uniform, McGaffic said, and he gets the names from the Marine Corps.

First visit

This is the car’s first visit to Carlisle Events. In addition to answering questions, adding names and making the car available for pictures, McGaffic is also selling items, including wristbands and T-shirts, to raise money for Marines’ families.

Patrick Lemay, communications specialist for Carlisle Events, said organizers are excited to have the Marines memorial car here this weekend. The car is impressive in and of itself, Lemay said, but Carlisle Events also likes what it stands for, particularly in remembering the families of the fallen.

“Often that’s forgotten,” Lemay said.

As McGaffic was talking Thursday, a man came up to him and said his cousin served two terms overseas: “I really appreciate what you’re doing.”
In Focus

For more information about the Memorial Race Car Team, visit http://jbnitrofunnycar.com.