On May 2, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Anthony Alfredo earned the checkered flag in the eNASCAR iRacing Saturday Night Thunder 125-lap race at virtual Dover International Speedway.
The victory came with some local flavor, as longtime Dover resident and U.S. military veteran Wally Yocum’s name was represented on the hood and the name of his wife Rose was featured on the back bumper with the phrase “Sweet Rose.”
“The most important thing is to have Wally Yocum’s name on this race car,” said Alfredo in an interview on NASCAR.com immediately after the race. “It’s painted just like the aircraft he piloted.”
Wally Yocum passed away in 2016 but his youngest son, Eric, was kind enough to sit down with Dover International Speedway for a Q&A on how the No. 33 Tribute to a Hero – Wally Yocum Chevrolet Camaro was created for one of the Monster Mile’s virtual races this spring.
This conversation has been edited for clarity.
Q: Tell us about your family, including your mom and dad. Where was your father stationed during his military career? Can you explain what the ‘Sweet Rose’ decal means?
A: Wally Yocum Jr. joined the U.S. Air Force in 1952 after graduating from high school in Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania. In nearly the same period, he met Rose Portaro in Marion Heights, a nearby town. He would date and carry his love for Rose through his Air Force training at Sampson Air Force Base in New York, Amarillo Air Force Base in Texas and then Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina. He would travel back and forth from Shaw to Pennsylvania on the weekends just to see Rose. For NASCAR fans, this is more than 625 miles one-way. That is like running the Coca-Cola 600 back-to-back each weekend.
After Wally completed his training, he was assigned to the troopship USS General J. C. Breckinridge during the Korean War, where he would be become crew chief for a F86-F fighter-interceptor jet. He was assigned to the 336th Rocketeers of the 4th Fighter Group. As crew chief, he added his love’s name “Sweet Rose” on his side of the F-86-F jet in red.
Wally and Rose married in the fall of 1955. With Wally stationed at Dover Air Force Base, they decided to move to Camden, Delaware and quickly had a son, Ken. After 1956, Wally left the Air Force at the rank of Airman First Class. He put his family first and decided to work at the Dover Air Force base as a civilian with the 436th Field Maintenance Squadron, allowing his family to stay in Delaware. A few years later, they had a second son, Steve. Wally and Rose moved to Dover in 1962. Once construction of Dover International Speedway was complete in 1969, the track ended up being only four miles from their home. They eventually had two more sons, Tom and myself (Eric). They would spend the rest of their lives at that residence.
Q: How did your family get into NASCAR? How long have you been coming to Dover races and where did you usually sit?
A: Dover International Speedway has always been a second home to our family. It began when Wally attended the first NASCAR race there in 1969 and saw Richard Petty cross the finish line for the win. It quickly became a tradition to visit the track every year with his kids. My parents reserved seating near the start/finish line. My brothers Ken and Steve would take photos of the track through the fence. My brother Tom would ride his bike and run go-carts around the track. He also
used to go up into the flagstand to watch practice sessions in early 1970s. One of Tom’s finest memories is when Wally got him into Victory Lane after Richard Petty’s win in 1974. Our family continues to go to the track every year since its opening and my late brother Steve was actually married at the start-finish line in November 1991. My father usually attended the races, and if not he would attend the off-track festivities with his grandchildren on Fridays and Saturdays.
Q: What was Wally Yocum’s background with airplane engines?
A: Wally worked on all kinds of fighter aircraft. He worked on B-26 bombers, F9F Panthers, F86 Sabre Mig Killers, F100 Super Sabers, F94 Starfires, F105 Thunderchiefs, F80 Shooting Stars, F84 Thunderjets and eventually even cargo planes such as the C-141 Starlifter and the C5 Galaxy. He became an expert with Pratt & Whitney and GE engines. GE even would consult with Wally on engine upgrades and reliability improvements.
Q: How did Wally Yocum’s name end up on a virtual race car? What’s your relationship with Anthony Alfredo?
A: A couple years ago, my brother Tom was a crew chief for a Whelen Series NASCAR team. He would get to go to a few tracks with the team, set up the car and talk strategy. The second year he was involved, Tom decided to sponsor his driver Justin Snow. He sponsored the car as a Tribute to a Hero – Wally Yocum race car. He sketched out an idea for the logo to me, and asked me if I could help put his idea into a digital form to replicate on the car. I took his sketch, which was a mocked up 336th Rocketeers logo (which represented my father’s division in Korea, 1954), and drew up that logo with Tom’s customization words and “Sweet Rose.” I accomplished this by using Macromedia Flash and Fireworks software. The logo turned out great! He then asked to update the gold around the 336th logo to a bright yellow, and thus, the logo was born.
Tom went out and ran a few races with that logo in 2018. He then parted from the team late 2018. In 2019, he tried having the logo added to a top-level NASCAR team for one race, with little success. This year, I sketched up a full paint scheme showing top, front, back and side views. This sketch was to help him show racing teams his ideas and what he would like to accomplish as far as sponsorship. I felt I reached my potential for Tom with the software applications I had – because none of them would allow me to show what a car could look like in 3-D, or even how the design can flow around the shapes and curves of the car.
I looked toward iRacing, and the paint software those drivers were using. In order to use that, you would need to join an online board while having iRacing membership. I spent a lot of time thinking if it would be worth pursuing for the sponsorship. I felt yes, but decided to see what other people could do to help me produce the Tribute to a Hero paint scheme. I sent a few people messages on tradingpaints.com. I looked over all of their artwork, so I know I was picking the ones that I felt were best to produce the vibe of the car. It ended up being Liam Betterton from Phoenix Designs that took the task. I had him do a car in the paint scheme from my computer sketches and artwork, and later challenged him to design the car using the 1954 F-86F USAF sabre as an influence. I tried many times on how that could look, and I never just got it right. Liam came up with it, and the scheme was beautiful! He incorporated the Tribute to a Hero Wally Yocum paint scheme with the paint scheme reflecting the colors of my father’s F-86 in Korea.
In the meantime, iRacing had started to pick up momentum as it joined TV on Sundays. As I watched the races on TV with my kids, I kept envisioning the Tribute of a Hero paint scheme on one of the cars. I watched and researched the drivers. I had a few in mind and had email communication with them. Then virtual Richmond comes along, a track I love going to, and I was glued to Anthony Alfredo’s all white No. 33 Chevrolet. A driver that good needed us on the hood. I felt he was an excellent opportunity. He had been doing great with the series, and something felt special about contacting him.
I emailed him and Anthony forwarded my email to his team. Team Dillon Management emailed me back, with questions of what I wanted to accomplish. I contacted my brother, who I know had experience talking to teams, if he would not mind talking to them. I really felt bad at that time because my brother had a broken leg, but I thought this would cure some of that discomfort. Tom was focused on getting a deal on the real racecar; I was just looking to settle for this iRacing car for the moment. The iRacing is what was big at this time with COVID-19. I felt we had a great driver and a huge shot to pull this off (win). Besides, my father enjoyed watching Harry Gant race the No. 33 – it just felt like this was going to be a great experience.
Team Dillon Management did a wonderful job in working with us, and got their new paint scheme from our current references designed by John Dragonetti. They worked with NASCAR to get the paint scheme approved. Anthony raced at virtual Talladega the weekend after we contacted his team and almost won it. I was feeling good for Dover coming up. I watched Anthony on Twitter in the evenings, and know he put a ton of effort into just trying to win one of these virtual races. He kept saying he felt good about his chances, and that energy made me feel good that he was our driver. Anthony mentioned the car many times in interviews, and spoke many about wanting to win this car for our family.
Q: What were your feelings when you saw that car cross the virtual start-finish line first at Dover?
A: The virtual NASCAR Dover International Speedway Saturday Night Thunder was an exciting race! I was keeping tabs with the top drivers, and felt like it was our family’s night once Donny Lia got the penalty for speeding on pit lane. I just needed Anthony to pace himself to the leader and pass him cleanly. Once Anthony took the lead late, I was super excited. I felt my heart beating faster, as I was craving that ultimate win. Anthony got loose and lost the lead with less than 10 laps to go, but he got it back. After he got it back and started to pull away, I started to feel like it was going to happen. I was all smiles until the final curve, his car started to drift half-sideways. I yelled “No!” I thought he was going to spin out on the final turn of the final lap, but he got it straight and continued to cross the line first. I still watch that virtual race every week. It is just as good as the first time!
Q: What other tracks have you visited aside from Dover?
A: I think most of our family combined have seen most of the tracks on the circuit. I enjoy visiting Richmond due to its close proximity to Delaware. It is a second home track to my family. I tend to like the smaller tracks. With Wally, we watched races at Richmond, Martinsville, and Pocono in 1992 when Davey Allison had a bad flip. We experienced the track tours of Bristol and Daytona as well.
Q: How did the virtual races during the pandemic bring your family together?
A: COVID-19 has been rough on everyone. We all want to get back to the life we knew. I am fortunate enough to work every day. I, like everybody else, had to adjust to the current role we live in. The virtual racing on the weekends was something I looked forward to watching. It allowed multiple drivers to feel the competitive drive we all crave every week.
The virtual world also allowed our families to talk about racing during a time when we all were asked to stay home. As during real racing, Thursdays were always special to me to see what new paint schemes were out. Once I saw our Tribute to a Hero Wally Yocum paint scheme on NASCAR.com, it drew instant excitement. The articles and support from Richard Childress Racing was amazing that week. When something new came out about the Tribute to a Hero car, we would share it. All of the virtual racing was exciting, but having a car on the NASCAR website and RCR’s website was huge to my family. And after we won, the car was almost listed everywhere in the sports world. It was an incredible experience to go through. It was a week that we as a family enjoyed the memory of our father, and we witnessed a dream come true.