2016 Season Photos
Don O’Neal readily acknowledges his life was heading down the wrong path as he
was preparing to graduate from high school.
Searching for options – O’Neal enlisted in the U.S. Army at age 18. O’Neal served
in the Army from 1991-2013, retiring as a Sergeant First Class (SFC). He spent some
time talking to CompetitionPlus.com about Veterans Day – Nov. 11.
“Veteran’s Day takes on a lot of different meanings to me, it’s more than just raising
a glass to my brothers and sisters on my left and on my right,” O’Neal said. “I think
about the people who I served with and who got lost. It takes on a different
meaning for those people and their families and to those who are still serving who
I helped recruit to join the Army and seeing how successful they are. So, Veterans
Day means a lot more to me today at age 43 than it did say at age 23. It’s a pretty
important day for me.”
O’Neal’s grandfather, Donald, served in the Korean War and his late father, Don
served in Vietnam, but that isn’t what led him down the military path.
“Ironically, it was never was about following in the footsteps of my grandfather and my father,” Don said. “It wasn’t about a loyalty factor or a family history. It was more along the lines that I wasn’t where I needed to be in a mental mindset on being focused on furthering my education. I wasn’t discipline enough to really be successful in college.”
With that in mind, O’Neal - who grew up in the small town of Henderson, N.C., which has a population now of just over 15,000 – found a solution for himself in the Army.
“I needed to make my own way and create a path,” O’Neal said. “I went into the Army as a helicopter mechanic and that provided me a sense of structure and organization in my life. I had the next six years of my life to figure out what is I wanted to do, but also at the same time I had job training and an education while wearing the uniform.”
And, joining the Army is a choice O’Neal is thrilled he made.
“That was something I needed to do to become more mature, because I wasn’t mature,” O’Neal said. “It’s humbling to look back and say I wasn’t a great teenager growing up and now I’m a better adult today than I ever was in those years. Now, in today’s society it is less than one percent of the general population that will take the challenge of raising their right hand and wearing the uniform, regardless of what branch it is. I urge people to go to their local recruiter. By going into the Army I was able to get a college education and I just completed my Master’s Degree on Sunday (Nov. 6). The Army GI Bill paid for everything.”
When O’Neal was growing up in Henderson, outside of Raleigh, he was bitten by the drag racing bug.
“I was going to places like Piedmont Dragway (in Julian, N.C.) and Rockingham,” O’Neal said. “A lot of people remember me as a snot-nose kid. Then I came back in that environment and driving the Army car, there’s a lot of history in that Southeastern part of North Carolina.”
O’Neal began competing in drag racing in 1993-94. By 2005, he landed a ride, piloting the 1,000 horsepower Army Super Comp dragster.
Although O’Neal was drag racing down the quarter-mile, he never stopped serving his country
O’Neal took overseas tours in Haiti, Kosovo, Somalia, Bosnia and he also made other trips to the Far East and other foreign countries. His final 12 years in the Army he was a recruiter.
“For the general public I recruited at every level an Army officer could,” O’Neal said.
Throughout his years of service, O’Neal never stopped drag racing. He presently drives the VP Racing Schools Monte Carlo in the Top Sportsman class.
The highlight of O’Neal’s racing career – to date – came in 2010 when he became the first U.S. Army active duty soldier to appear in an NHRA national event final round at the 2010 U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis.
O’Neal came up just short of capturing the coveted Wally as he was beat by Troy Coughlin Jr., in the finals of the prestigious event.
“We didn’t win, but that was a very exciting race for me,” O’Neal said. As much as O’Neal loves racing, he always looking out for the United States military.
“Typically on average, when there’s a democratic president and a democratic congress, the military side suffers,” O’Neal said. “Pay raises are non-existent for us. I feel for the people who are thousands of miles away from their homes and their making very (minimal) salaries. It’s also hurtful to see people get upset and protesting and blocking highways (following Donald Trump being elected the U.S. President). Are you really accomplishing anything? I’ve been to countries where things are far worse. (People) need to take some time and relax and see what happens. The world is not going to end today. It’s very frustrating.”
On this Veterans Day, O’Neal would like this message to be heard.
“I think in society there’s has been a disconnect between World War II and Vietnam and all the wars in current modern day times,” O’Neal said. “In today’s society with this younger generation there is a sense of entitlement. That’s not the way this country was built. It was built by hard work, integrity, morals and values. When you stop believing in those things, you weaken yourself and you weaken the country around you.”
Courtesy of Competition Plus