Chesty, Ladder, and Boar: Three’s a Crowd at USMC Racing

The first time we checked in with Brian Czech in March of 2019, he was already doing the impossible. Holding down duties as a CWO2 in a war-time U.S. Marine Corps, Brian had also scratched together the remains of a Crown Vic for racing in various LeMons series events and was providing the framework for a revolving door of grunts and flyboys to both drive and crew the machine.

You might wash it and you can backlight it, but you can’t hide the scars of a genuine Devil Dog like Chesty’s Chariot. Beat with an ugly stick from stem to stern, this once-a-Crown Vic embodies the tenacity Brian Czech has demonstrated in making USMC Racing the success it is.

Now, you just don’t go down to the motor pool and request a Crown Vic race car when you’re a full-time Marine, full-time husband and full-time dad (by the way, Marine leadership has determined a person can only effectively perform three jobs simultaneously). But in the best Globe & Anchor tradition, Brian improvised, adapted, and overcame the endless limitations of no time, no money, no real shop, and serial deployments to indulge his need for speed.

A Marine nearly twenty years, Brian Czech founded USMC racing after attending more funerals for buddies who committed suicide than died in combat. It’s his way of providing direction and belonging to post-action trauma sufferers. This picture encompasses what USMC Racing is all about — getting as many vets and first responders involved as possible. Time spent together on a common, rewarding, and heart-pumping goal is the stuff they need. It’s also a lot of fun.

But as he gained the tools and supporting gear, Brian — who, besides obvious immense energy and drive must be the caring sort — saw that he had a great platform for helping others living highly stressed lives, namely military and first responders. With fellow gearhead Marine Osprey pilot Nathan Gravelle, the result was the formation of Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children Racing, otherwise known as USMC Racing. Their Crown Vic-powered goal was to provide an outlet for adrenaline-starved military and first responders suffering from the alienation, depression, and PTSD, engendered by the incredible intensity of combat followed by the ennui of returning to civilian life. It’s a condition mentioned in the mainstream news, but in a nation that hardly remembers it is at war, the subject is ironically sidelined as soon as it comes up. But to those involved, sidelining is not possible — however, the withdrawal can be eased by the racing drug.

Slightly less hammered than Chesty’s Chariot, Ladder 3 is the “new” Crown Vic at USMC Racing. These big sedans are perfect for the job; tough as an iron ball, safe, and surprisingly light on their feet once gutted like a freshly landed perch, they’re also plentiful and cheap.

Since that single Crown Vic beginning, USMC Racing has turned from a skirmish to a full-blown firefight. Chesty’s Chariot, the OG Crown Vic, has been joined by another Crown Vic along with (horrors) a Camaro. Hey, it’s a Joint Forces effort. The second Vic is known as Ladder 3 and was generously obtained from the Richland County (South Carolina) Sheriff’s Office through the A&E television channel’s Live PD show. Honoring public emergency personnel, Ladder 3’s race number is 412 to commemorate the number of first responders killed during the September 11, 2001 attacks; Ladder 3 itself is the fire fighting company that was all but wiped out during the same attacks. Like Chesty’s Chariot, Ladder 3 wears its LeMons racing patina unashamedly. This is a series where spending less is a virtue and taking things too seriously is penalized.

That ’79 Camaro — call sign Wild Boar — is numbered 282 in remembrance of Senior Chief Petty Officer Scott Dayton and the EOD Platoon to which he was assigned. Senior Chief Dayton, just 42, was killed on November 24, 2016 during Operation Inherent Resolve; the first American fatality in Syria. The “Wild Boar” name commemorates the US Army’s 2d Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment of the 10th Mountain “Wild Boar.

“Scrounging” is a valued tradition in any military and Brian Czech (second from left) certainly knows how to persistently plow the performance ground to support his team. Here Hot Shot’s Secret (oil/fuel additives) joins a growing honor roll of companies supporting USMC Racing with product, cash or both. Also pictured are integral team members, Nate Gravelle (left) and Brian Fennell (second from right). Gravelle’s day job is piloting a tilt-rotor Osprey pilot in the Corps. He’s also a gearhead and co-founder of USMC Racing with Brian Czech. Deployments and wide-ranging assignments often have Gravelle away from the races but he gets in some dirt biking and track action as he can. A Marine reservist anti-tank missile gunner, Fennell is the indispensable do-all crew chief and general manager of USMC Racing, as well as a Ford tech who’s owned 17 Mustangs and runs his own independent shop in Kyle, Texas. 

If you’re feeling the emphasis is on people and not the machinery at USMC Racing, you’ve got the idea. The cars are LeMons racers, where dents are the surface language, and asymmetry in presentation a religion. It’s where old plastic funnels get turned into air scoops and ammo cans are transform into center consoles. This isn’t to say there isn’t excellent safety gear throughout the USMC Racing fleet, and technical partners such as Rusty Knuckles Garage, Kyle Automotive, and Mo’s Speed Shop haven’t labored hard and craftily to put what speed and consistency can be had in such bar room brawl hardware, but CNC precision and printed metal parts aren’t the point here. USMC Racing goes for grueling 24-hour races, the better to put the maximum number of drivers through its cars so the emphasis is on survivability. It’s an ethos at the core of USMC Racing’s reason for being. The people inside these machines have seen much worse than a tight spot on the track, and know fanatic attention to detail isn’t as important as freedom and determination.

Looking like it’s ambushing the competition, Chesty’s Chariot zooms out of pit lane. Its mild but sunrise-reliable 4.6L 2-valve power and long wheelbase make it a forgiving platform for the wide range of driving talent Czech puts behind its wheel.

And this is one determined team; Brian Czech has seen to that. While the numbers are constantly going up, with just 19 events entered so far, USMC Racing has put an incredible 177 drivers behind the wheel of its cars, and 67 volunteer crew members have worked in the pits — an outstanding success!

Besides putting vets and responders in the cockpit, USMC Racing gets everybody’s hands dirty. The 24-hour races mean plenty of pre-race preparation and pit stop action when things inevitably go into the barriers. The Sniper EFI unit seen here shows there’s good hardware under the dented bodywork.

About the author

Tom Wilson

Infatuated by things that make noise and go fast, Tom has been writing about cars and airplanes for over 35 years. So far that’s meant a decade editing Super Ford magazine, plus long associations with Road & Track, MSN Autos and more lately Kitplanes magazine. It’s also meant some SCCA racing and a lot of fun sampling everything from Trans Am cars to F1 chassis as part of “work.” Besides the racing hobby Tom enjoys flying his biplane, plinking tin cans and messing around with telescopes.
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