FDNY Racing - Daytona 2019: Competing for a Higher Cause
by John Chuhran, MetroSports Magazine
Above: Former Mamaroneck Mayor, Norman Rosenblum (Left Foreground) and FDNY Racing Team Owner Jim Rosenblum (Right Freground) posing with the #28 FDNY Racing Truck. Photo Courtesy Jim Rosenblum
Jim Rosenblum and the concept of retirement don't seem to mix.
Rosenblum, a life-long resident of Westchester County, built a successful career in construction and real estate businesses that enabled him to indulge in his passion -- auto racing. He attended the first race at Daytona International Speedway in 1959 as a fan, and by the 1980s he had become involved as a sponsor and race team owner. Rosenblum loved being a part of the show and, in 1995, fielded a team in NASCAR's new Craftsman Truck Series. Money continued to be a issue and the team entered just three races in 1996 before Rosenblum pulled the plug and retired again. His truck didn't run again until 1999 when it appeared for one race and followed with a pair of starts in 2000. The truck sat idle in 2001.
The world and racing changed on September 11, 2001 when Islamic terrorists brought down the twin towers of New York's World Trade Center and caused extensive damage to the Pentagon in Washington. D.C. For Rosenblum, this was a difficult time. Of the 2,977 people killed in the attacks, 343 were New York City firefighters. The total has grown by more than 2,0000 in the subsequent years as cancer and other illnesses caused by inhaling the toxic air from Ground Zero increased the number of casualties. Many of those victims were his friends.
So, with determination to pay tribute to New York's Bravest who had made the ultimate sacrifice, Rosenblum had the truck repainted in red and white with a touch of blue to symbolize the American flag. Mechanically, the truck was refurbished and prepared for competition by long-time NASCAR car owner and engine builder Bob Rahilly of RahMoc. The team was still comprised of volunteers, but now most were New York Firefighters led by Mike Bolnick. The operation was renamed FDNY Racing and it had a new objective as it was reborn in 2002.
"After the (attacks on the) World Trade Center," Rosenblum said, "I decided it was important to make sure people remembered the first responders who were killed, so that's when I decided to change the (team) name to FDNY Racing and to have the truck painted to honor the firefighters.
But last February, Rosenblum announced that the NextEra Energy 250 at Daytona would be his last race as an owner. At age 78, it was time to call it a career. It wasn't the first time.
"Last year," Rosenblum said, "for what was supposed to be the last race at Daytona, we put a tribute to 'Murph' on the deck lid. He was a helicopter pilot in Vietnam and he suffered from PTSD. We had him convinced to go to therapy up at the veteran's facility in Montrose (N.Y.) and he just didn't take it. He wound up taking his own life. He was a recipient of many military awards including the Silver Star (the nation's third highest military honor behind the Medal of Honor and the Distinguished Service Cross), the Bronze Star and the Distinguished Flying Cross. He was a real hero and a great guy. There's a quote by General (George) Patton that sums it up pretty good: 'It is foolish to mourn the men who died. Rather, we should thank God that such men lived.' This is why FDNY Racing exists. We should never forget."
Optimistic about the race, the team watched with excitement as the 32-truck field took the green flag. But things quickly went wrong. Running 20th at the beginning of lap 2, the right front tire of the No. 28 truck blew, leaving Dauzat with no control. He sailed high up the banking, glancing off another truck before smacking the wall hard and continuing around to the pits. Meanwhile, two other trucks had also experienced blowouts and one caught fire when flailing rubber ripped off an oil line, bring out the yellow caution flag and slowing the pace as Dauzat struggled to bring his damaged machine back for service.
“Going into the turn on the drop of the green, something came off Joe’s (Nemecheck, who started 19th) truck,” Dauzat said. “Whether it was from his truck or someone else’s truck, I don’t know. I thought I centered it, but it must’ve hit the right-front tire. I don’t know. I lost the brakes when I was coming in. I said, ‘I have no brakes,’ (over the radio) and he came out in front.”
"He" was jackman Billy Rock, a retired NYPD Highway patrol officer. With Dauzat weaving the No. 28 side-to-side to try to scrub off some speed, the truck was still going faster than normal and Rock made contact with the right front corner of the truck. The crewman was knocked end over end and crashed to the pavement as the Chevy Silverado finally came to a halt more than 40 feet beyond the FDNY Racing pit stall.
An ambulance was dispatched and Rock was loaded onto a stretcher and brought to Halifax Health Medical Center where he was treated for a broken shoulder and released (photo at left). The No. 28 had sustained too much damage to continue -- a situation that became even more disappointing as the race progressed. It was a wild affair of carnage and mechanical failures, leaving Rosenblum to ponder what might have been.
"The series has been overrun with teenagers with big checks (to pay for the rides)," Rosenblum said. "With so many inexperienced kids out there, our plan was to drop to the back and stay out of trouble. The way things worked out with all the crashes and the (11) extra laps, there were only three undamaged trucks running at the finish. That (No. 28) truck always ran well in traffic. We could have been right there with them. But we tried our best and Billy (Rock) will heal, so we'll just keep moving ahead."
Having just celebrated his 79th birthday, Rosenblum does not see another retirement on the horizon.
"Here's the problem," Rosenblum said. "If you get on drugs, you go to rehab. If you're an alcoholic, you go to Alcoholics Anonymous. But there's no rehab for racing."
For those who want to help support the FDNY Racing cause with sponsorship to enable them to race more often, Rosenblum can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling the team's administrative offices -- often staffed by his brother, former Mamaroneck mayor Norman Rosenblum -- at 914-381-4625.
Read the full article in the upcoming issue of MetrosSports Magazine due out next week.
All photos courtesy Jim Rosenblum FDNY Racing