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NATCA Racing Joins Forces with Nascar Star Bobby Labonte - (2/12/2002)

WASHINGTON – The National Air Traffic Controllers Association is pleased to announce a new relationship with Joe Gibbs Racing and NASCAR Winston Cup star Bobby Labonte, whose No. 18 Pontiac Grand Prix will carry the red, white and blue NATCA logo for the 2002 season, starting with Sunday’s Daytona 500.

The alliance with Labonte, the 2000 Winston Cup champion, is a big achievement for NATCA Racing, a group of air traffic controllers who are avid racing fans. The group, which offers customized clothing apparel and other merchandise to controllers nationwide, has sponsored Sam Schmidt Motorsports’ Indy Racing League team since 1998. “This is a great opportunity for us to be recognized in a positive manner to both the racing public and the flying public,” said NATCA Racing Coordinator Taylor Koonce, an air traffic controller in Indianapolis. “NATCA has the opportunity to be spotlighted in the premier events of both open wheel and stock car racing and we’re very excited about that.”

Koonce said air travel is extremely important for NASCAR teams who used to move their entire operations between races via truck. Those teams’ utilize approximately 150 combined aircraft within the National Airspace System at over 30 races per year, making the work of air traffic controllers vital to the efficiency of their operations. In addition, many airlines schedule extra flights into large race venues – such as Indianapolis in May – and temporary air traffic control towers are often set up at smaller airports near tracks like Atlanta Motor Speedway to handle traffic related to the event.

NATCA Executive Vice President Ruth Marlin noted the similarities between the jobs of air traffic controllers and racers. “For us, it’s just like auto racing; if your driver isn’t at the top of his game, it doesn’t really matter how good your car is,” Marlin said. “Air traffic controllers have to be at the top of their game whether or not their equipment is good enough to win at Daytona.” Team owner Joe Gibbs said the relationship with NATCA is a natural pairing of highly skilled professionals who are used to enormous pressure and responsibility. “It’s high speed and high pressure and if your team doesn’t take care of safety first, you don’t have a team,” Gibbs stated.

The NATCA Racing logo incorporates the association’s familiar design, with the block letters N-A-T-C-A atop a control tower and circular outline of a radarscope. Labonte’s team has placed a four-inch diameter version of the logo in front of both rear wheels of the car.

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