Gragson Tours Lockheed Martin Plant Prior to Company’s Sponsorship of No. 9 Chevrolet

Photo: Lockheed Martin/Chris Hanoch

Ron Lemasters | 11/7/2019

Lockheed Martin News Noah Gragson XFINITY Series

Noah Gragson got a VIP tour last week of Lockheed Martin's Texas plant, where some of the most advanced military assets are built.

MOORESVILLE, N.C. (Nov. 7, 2019) – Noah Gragson was not yet born when the original Top Gun movie was released in 1986. The movie, set in the midst of the Cold War, did wonders for military recruiting and turned a generation of kids on to the wonders of military aviation.

Lockheed Martin, which will be the primary sponsor on Gragson’s No. 9 JR Motorsports Chevrolet this weekend at ISM Raceway in Phoenix, is based in Fort Worth, Texas. Last weekend, while in town for the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Texas Motor Speedway, the 21-year-old Nevada driver got an up-close-and-personal look at the inner workings of military aviation by touring the assembly line on which the F-35 Lightning II, the most lethal, survivable and connected fighter plane in the world, is built.

The facility for the fifth-generation fighter plane is a massive undertaking. The line itself is an astounding 1 mile, 25 feet in length, and each of the three variants—the F-35A, F-35B and F35C—are built there. The F-35A is the traditional fighter used from permanent runways (Air Force) on bases around the world, while the B variant (Marines) has short-takeoff/landing capabilities. The C variant is flown by the U.S. Navy from its powerful aircraft carriers around the world.

The F-35, which will replace the venerable F-16 Fighting Falcon by 2030, serves as the backbone of allied airpower for more than 13 nations, including NATO. Playing a critical role in joint operations, the fighter brings unprecedented situational awareness, information sharing and connectivity to the coalition.

Gragson was blown away by the visit.

“It was really cool, one of the coolest experiences of my life,” he said. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, to tour something like that and see the production line. Learning the differences in the variants, how they’re able to build all three on the same assembly line, was really cool. I hadn’t known a ton about the jets, but I was looking on Instagram, and now I can tell the difference between each variant of jet. I’ve always had a tremendous amount of respect and appreciation for them, but I didn’t realize the finer details. Now I do, and it’s great to see that they employ so many veterans there. To have Lockheed Martin on the car this week and be educated about it, it’s a fantastic experience. It was incredible.”

His guides for the tour were test pilot Tony “Brick” Martin, a 25-year flight veteran, and Craig “Barbie” Dalle, who has 30-plus years in the cockpit of an F-16 and now works in the famed Skunk Works for Advanced Development Programs at the company. Martin is a test pilot for the F-35 Lightning and also delivers the planes to customers around the world. Dalle works in business development and engineering advancement.

“Brick was a great tour guide, an awesome guy and he was explaining what his role is,” Gragson said. “He is the delivery guy for the jet along with being a test pilot for them. That’s something he’s been doing it for 15-20 years. Barbie taught me how to fly the jet simulator. There was for sure a lot of experience between those two, and they were excited to learn all about our race cars just as much as I was excited to learn about the jets too.

“They thought what I do was really cool and incredible, and it’s just a normal day for me. I thought what they do was really cool and incredible and they were playing it off like it was a normal day for them. It was really cool to see the comparisons between racing and military aviation.”

Today, Gragson and crew chief Dave Elenz will tour Luke Air Force Base, located 15 miles west of Phoenix. The base is the home of the Air Education and Training Command, which fields several squadrons of F-35A fighter planes. While there, the driver and crew chief will have the chance to speak with engineers and F-35 pilots to learn about what goes into making the F-35 the most lethal stealth fighter jet in the world.

As a Las Vegas native, Gragson had grown up with the constant hum and buzz of Nellis Air Force Base as background.

“I was at an air show there when I was younger and I’d always seen those planes flying around, taking off, landing and doing different maneuvers,” he said. “When they brought me over to the flight simulator, I could see the mountains around Las Vegas on the simulator and I knew that that had to be Nellis AFB, and it was.”

Gragson was able to “fly” the F-35 at Nellis, if only in a virtual sense.

“I was able to fly and do different tests,” he said. “I shot two missiles at enemy planes...the technology on the F-35 is incredible. I also got to land on an aircraft carrier, and that was awesome. I had always dreamed of landing a plane on a carrier, and never thought I’d be able to do it. I got the third wire, which they say is pretty good. They said there are four, so that was good.”

The visit really resonated with Gragson, and gave him a renewed appreciation for the men and women who serve our country.

“Just having the opportunity to see something like this...having always had respect for what these guys do, risking their lives for our country, just being able to shake their hands and appreciate each and every person who works at Lockheed Martin,” Gragson said. “I appreciate the value of that and it’s a privilege to be able to go there. I can’t wait to have them on the car this weekend and just say thank you to each and every veteran who has served and is currently serving.”

Watch the No. 9 Lockheed Martin Chevrolet compete for a spot in the Championship 4 at ISM Raceway this Saturday, Nov. 9, airing at 3:30 p.m. ET on NBC, along with the rest of the JR Motorsports contingent.

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Homestead-Miami Speedway | 11/16/2019
RankDriverPointsBehind
1Tyler Reddick (P)40400
2Cole Custer (P)4035-5
3Christopher Bell (P)4032-8
4Justin Allgaier (P)4023-17
5Chase Briscoe #2302-1738
6Austin Cindric2294-1746
7John Hunter Nemechek #2253-1787
8Noah Gragson #2246-1794
9Michael Annett2239-1801