Al Niece, the owner of Niece Motorsports, served in Vietnam from 1966 to 1968. Photo courtesy of Niece Motorsports.
Motor sports legend Travis Pastrana was as fast as he needed to be in Wednesday night’s Daytona 500 time trials. With a lap time of 50.208 seconds, he beat out four competitors to clinch a spot in the 65th Great American Race, which takes place this Sunday in Daytona Beach and opens the 2023 season for NASCAR’s top-division Cup Series.
Pastrana, a relative newcomer to NASCAR, will drive in two more races before Sunday. The first is a 150-mile race to determine his starting position in the Daytona 500. Then, on Friday, while most of his competitors will likely be focused on conserving their energy ahead of the big race, Pastrana will compete in the NextEra Energy 250, the season opener for NASCAR’s third-division Truck Series.
On Friday, Pastrana will drive the No. 41 Chevrolet Silverado for Niece Motorsports, a racing team based in North Carolina. The team is owned by Al Niece, a self-described “gearhead” and former Marine infantryman who served in Vietnam. Pastrana has occasionally raced for Niece since 2017. In some ways, Pastrana’s relationship with Niece Motorsports facilitated his partnership with Black Rifle Coffee Company — a partnership that ultimately led to Pastrana’s upcoming debut in the Daytona 500. (BRCC owns Coffee or Die.)
“Al Niece is just a really awesome guy,” Pastrana told Coffee or Die. “He always wanted to go racing. He’s got a trucking company, basically construction, and he started racing a few years back.”
After learning that Pastrana was attempting the Great American Race, Niece Motorsports offered him a spot in the truck race to give him max track time ahead of Sunday. BRCC doesn’t sponsor the No. 41 truck and has no skin in the race, but the company welcomed the opportunity. Niece has become something of an icon in the veteran community.
Black Rifle Coffee Company athlete Travis Pastrana gives a thumbs-up. Black Rifle Coffee Company photo.
“Black Rifle said, ‘Oh, we really like Al. We really like what he’s doing,’” Pastrana said. “‘He’s just really a class act.’”
Even though Niece left the jungles of Vietnam more than 50 years ago, the memories from his time there are still fresh. He and his old comrades have returned to Vietnam on several occasions to visit the places they once patrolled as young Marines — the places where Niece’s journey really began.
“There isn’t a day that goes by that you don’t think about it,” Niece told Coffee or Die. “But that’s with every veteran, so there is nothing unique about that.”
Niece enlisted in the Marine Corps for a two-year stint during the height of the Vietnam War. He served as an infantry rifleman, or 0311, from 1966 to 1968, spending one day shy of 13 months overseas.
“They put me in Okinawa, Japan, for a few weeks, and then I was in Phu Bai, Vietnam, with Motor T,” Niece said. “They had a squad of infantry running security with the convoys out of Phu Bai. And then, I think it was March of ’67, they sent me north to Dong Ha as a replacement, and then the fun began.”
Al Niece, left, with NASCAR driver Carson Hocevar. Photo courtesy of Niece Motorsports.
In Dong Ha, Niece was assigned to Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Division. Dong Ha is a city in central Vietnam, about 5 miles from the country’s eastern coast. The city sits along National Route 9, a 50-mile highway that cuts across Vietnam, running from the South China Sea west to the Laotian border.
“We were all on Route 9, all the way from Dong Ha to the Laotian border, and patrolling everything around it,” Niece said. “Rockpile, Camp Carroll, Cam Lo, Con Thien, Khe Sanh, Ca Lu — all those garden spots.”
In other words, Niece’s unit was responsible for patrolling the volatile border between North and South Vietnam, known as the demilitarized zone. Operating out of a base in Dong Ha, their mission was to disrupt the flow of weapons and supplies from the North Vietnamese Army to communist guerrillas in the south.
“Ours were more skirmishes, little ambushes, or meeting engagements,” Niece said. “You’d be on patrol and bump into them. I mean, it was the infiltration route.”
As Niece describes it, his tour in Vietnam was like a brutal version of Groundhog Day. Like clockwork, his unit rotated between patrol, ambush, and security duties on a three- to four-day cycle.
Al Niece, bottom right, with fellow Marines in Vietnam between 1966 and 1968. Photo courtesy of Niece Motorsports.
“Our rear area was Dong Ha, and that’s where we had tents with hard floors. But in the field, we were in fighting holes or bunkers,” Niece said. “If you patrolled the day, then the next night you went out on an ambush, and then the third day, you would stay in the perimeter and work on your bunker.”
Niece attained the rank of sergeant before he left the Marine Corps in the summer of 1968. Upon reentering civilian life, he moved back home to Texas and started his own trucking company, which manufactures, rents, and sells vehicles used in construction and mining.
Niece’s company, Niece Equipment, has now been in business for more than 40 years. The venture eventually paved the way to Niece’s entry into the world of professional racing. The former Marine has found his niche in trucking of all kinds.
“I was a gearhead in high school,” Niece said. “Hell, I had a ’53 Studebaker I put a Chevy in, so I’ve always been around cars or what have you. And then when I got older, I had a little drag boat, and then I had a sprint car and then a modified, and then I’d gotten married and had to take the toys away, but it was always something I wanted to get back into.”
Al Niece, left, with NASCAR driver Ross Chastain after a win at the Charlotte Motor Speedway, North Carolina, in May 2022. Photo courtesy of Niece Motorsports.
In 2016, Niece formed Niece Motorsports, and that same year the team fielded a Chevy pickup in two Truck Series races. The following year, Niece Motorsports fielded the truck for a full season, with several drivers taking the wheel. One of those drivers was Pastrana.
“Oh, it’s a thrill,” Niece said of working with Pastrana. “He brings a lot of excitement to the organization.”
Niece Motorsports will field three trucks this season. NASCAR drivers Carson Hocevar and Lawless Alan will drive two of those trucks full-time. Meanwhile, a rotation of guest drivers will take the wheel of the No. 41 truck after Pastrana opens the season in Daytona on Friday night.
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Jenna Biter is a staff writer at Coffee or Die Magazine. She has a master’s degree in national security and is a Russian language student. When she’s not writing, Jenna can be found reading classics, running, or learning new things, like the constellations in the night sky. Her husband is on active duty in the US military. Know a good story about national security or the military? Email Jenna.
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