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NASCAR driver checks out a different cockpit at MacDill

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 05:37 PM

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TAMPA -

Sitting in cockpit of the KC-135 Stratotanker, Kevin Harvick looked up at the gauges and dials and levers and knobs.

There were many more than the 35-year-old NASCAR driver finds in his Chevy Impala, the No. 29 car he races.

"Just like in your car, the gauges give you something to look at," said Air Force Maj. Alex Fafinski.

Harvick, a native of Bakersfield, Calif., was checking out the refueling jet as part of an appearance at MacDill Air Force Base to thank the troops and promote his appearance at the July 7 Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway.

His short stint in the cockpit followed a chance to lie down in the aft of the jet, where an operator would lower the refueling boom into a plane waiting to gas up.

As he walked through the plane, Harvick noted several times how clean it was.

"I like things clean and organized," he said later in a short news conference outside the plane.

Harvick said that while he enjoyed checking out the refueling jet and loves seeing the hardware nearly as much as meeting the troops, he has no interest in flying the Stratotanker.

"I don't even have time to fly my plane," he said.

Senior Airman Christopher Cannon, who was giving Harvick a tour of the plane, is a big NASCAR fan and said meeting the driver was "a great pleasure. He was super nice."

Harvick thanked the men and women at MacDill.

"The work that you guys and gals do makes it possible for us to do what we do every weekend," Harvick told dozens of fans, most in uniform, who came to meet him at Surf's Edge, a restaurant and club on the base.

Navy Chief Petty Officer William Curley, a 22-year veteran, presented Harvick with a CPO challenge coin. Curley said the coin carries a challenge for Harvick to win the NASCAR championship.

During a question-and-answer session, 13-year-old Clark Utley got what he came for.

"Can you sign my NASCAR video game?" asked Clark, whose father, Army Sgt. Maj. Dwight Utley, works at U.S. Special Operations Command.

Harvick signed the NASCAR 2008 copy, bringing a smile to the boy's face.

Afterward, Clark said, "It was like walking up to an awesome racer."


haltman@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7629

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