This edition of NASCAR ‘Behind the Scenes’ focuses on Fabian Hall, Army Staff Sergeant, cancer survivor, and aspiring chef, who had his dream come true thanks to Petty Motorsports, Aric Almriola and Eckrich.
This past weekend, Hall was surprised with the opportunity to be the chef at Texas Motor Speedway for Aric Almirola’s No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford. Almirola’s sponsor Eckrich, part of the John Morrell Food Group, a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods, made the dream come true thanks to their corporate partnership with Operation Homefront.
Eckrich gave Hall the opportunity to not only accompany the Petty race team to Texas for the NASCAR weekend, but also set him up with a new grilling set so that he could prepare meals for the team. And this was all revealed to Hall in a surprise trip to a local grocery store.
“We went to Kroger’s and saw all this stuff set up by Eckrich and all of a sudden, here comes the race car around the corner,” Hall said of how he first learned about his opportunity to cook trackside. “I was surprised.”
“After that, they told me what was in store for the whole race weekend and then we shopped for what I would be cooking for the team all weekend,” Hall continued. “It was a thrill ride for me.”
“It was really cool to be able to surprise Fabian,” Aric Almirola, driver of the famed No. 43 said. “I drove the show car around the corner and of course revved the engine when I got up to him.”
“He has done a lot for our country and it was really great to give back to him,” Almirola continued. “He was very surprised and really got a kick out of the car being there.”
While Hall enjoys NASCAR, he is primarily a fan of the automobile.
“I’m a car fan period,” Hall said. “If it’s got wheels on it, I’ll watch it.”
While Hall has heard of many of the NASCAR stars, he admitted to not following a particular driver or team. This past race weekend, his first ever at the track in person, may just have changed all of that for this warrior chef.
“I’ve heard of a lot of the drivers but don’t follow any one driver,” Hall said. “I like the sound of the engines and how they are driving. so I just watch the sport because of my love of the cars and the enthusiasm I get from watching the cars.”
“I’ve never really followed just one driver but I’m definitely keeping my eyes on Aric from here on out.”
“This was my first time at the track,” Hall said. “I was pretty amazing, especially when you get to hear that caliber of car and the engines revved up.”
While Hall was having a great time ogling all those fast cars, he also had a job to do. And this aspiring chef cooked up a storm for Almirola, the ‘King’ Richard Petty and the No. 43 team.
“The first meal I did was a beer brine for the sausages,” Hall said. “I did a vegetable medley with peppers, onions, and squash on the grill with that and some nice white rice to go with it.”
“I also did a beer brine barbecue sauce to finish it off,” Hall continued. “The second day, I did a mac and cheese casserole with several different cheeses, sausage, peppers and garlic.”
“I grilled all that off together and did some bacon as well,” Hall said. “I covered it all with cheese and when the team opened it up and saw it, it was like they were in Disneyland.”
“It was pretty awesome.”
Hall admitted that what has meant most to him was the encouragement and positive comments that he got from the team about his cooking.
“He is a great cook!” Almirola said. “He made dinner for the team on Friday and Saturday and it was delicious.”
“I’ve gotten a lot of text messages letting me know how much the team enjoyed my food,” Hall said. “I could see the look on their faces of the crew members that they enjoyed it.”
“They said that two top chefs came in and cooked for them before but they said my food beat their food,” Hall continued. “That was a great thing to hear and take in.”
“To know that after so many years of being in the Army and learning so many different things and then to go to school and to be able to cook on the same caliber as someone I’ve seen on TV cooking, that was a good feeling.”
Hall has honed his culinary skills from the time he was a young boy, cooking at the feet of his grandmother. He then continued to cook in the Army, prior to being diagnosed with cancer and having to undergo serious treatment.
“I’m from east Texas and that’s a little country area, where either you’re hauling logs or working on cars,” Hall said. “I worked on cars but also watched my grandmother in the kitchen.”
“When I was 14 years old, I decided I was hungry and fixed a roast and stuck with it ever since,” Hall continued. “When I joined the military, they gave me the choice of either being a mechanic or a cook and of course I chose the lesser of the greasy jobs.”
“I think I did my grandmother justice because not only have I taken her recipes and done elegant dishes but I’ve used the techniques that I learned from her in school and in the Army,” Hall said. “My service in the military and the time I spent learning things, from Germany to here at San Antonio receiving my treatment for cancer, I’ve done my profession well in tribute to her.”
Hall shared that what surprised him most about being at the track and cooking for the race team was just how family-oriented the team was. And of course, he was tremendously impressed by the head of that Petty race team family, the ‘King’ himself.
“Richard Petty is one of the most humble guys,” Hall said. “You can tell he is a country boy and we got along well.”
“I loved hanging out with him and him coming by and sneaking his finger into my food,” Hall continued. “That final dessert he tasted, you could tell he liked my food.”
“He could not put that plate down of the apple ala mode,” Hall said. “A lot of people were surprised that I did that dessert being that I only had a grill to cook on.”
“But I still made apple ala mode and they were surprised that I pulled it off.”
For Hall, cooking for Richard Petty and company was most assuredly one of the biggest blessings that he has experienced in his life. Yet he has kept it all in perspective, especially after his experiences in the Army and with battling cancer.
“To me, it was an add-on to God blessing me to still be here,” Hall said. “When I went through my chemotherapy, there were low points and I thought I was not going to make it.”
“My mother and my family came in and helped push me along and kept me motivated,” Hall continued. “They would pray with me and for me and that kept me grounded to my roots in church.”
“When you have something like that to ground you, you can’t go wrong,” Hall said. “Family, church and prayer helped me a lot.”
“So, I was not expecting to be there for this race experience,” Hall continued. “And now that I have, it’s just another blessing.”
“God blessed me to be able to do it and I’m looking forward to many more opportunities to bless other people’s stomachs and mouths,” Hall said. “I feel like what I do is a blessing and I’m going to keep on sharing that blessing with everyone else.”
Petty driver Aric Almirola echoed Hall’s sentiments about his time at the track.
“He is a great example of perseverance,” Almirola said. “He went overseas and fought for our country and then came back and fought for his life.”
“To see someone go through all of that and still have a positive outlook on life is really inspiring,” Almirola continued. “I’m just glad to work with a company like Eckrich that supports charities like Operation Homefront and really gives back to the community.”
“We wouldn’t be able to race every weekend if it weren’t for people like Fabian who give up everything to fight for our freedom,” Almirola said. “So anytime you can give back, even in a small way, is huge.”