‘NASCAR Angels’ leave Vic Isler Jr. a big surprise
By Mark Wineka
About a month ago, when the “NASCAR Angels” crew showed up at the Isler family home in Harrisburg to pick up a well-worn 1979 Chevrolet Corvette, no one could find the keys.
Tracy Isler soon figured out that they must be at school with her 15-year-old son, Vic Jr.
Every day since his father’s death in the March 7 fire at Salisbury Millwork, Vic Jr. had carried the keys in his pocket as a memory of his dad and the car project they had intended to tackle together.
Tracy Isler had bought the white Corvette for her husband and son on eBay for $1,500.
Vic Sr. planned to have it in good enough running condition to pass on to Vic Jr. when he turns 16 this October.
The dream seemed to be dashed with Vic Sr.’s death, until the “NASCAR Angels” television show ó a car version of “Extreme Makeover” ó stepped in and made the Corvette’s restoration a special project for an upcoming episode.
Vic Isler Jr. now has a new ride.
A very sweet ride.
A ride some car experts judged Friday to be worth maybe $30,000.
“The Reveal,” the day the car returns to its owner after all the improvements and repairs have been made, happened Friday morning at Salisbury Fire Department’s main station on East Innes Street.
Scores of firefighters and Charlotte area mechanics, body-repair men and interior specialists gathered in the back driveway of the station under a huge American flag draped from two ladder trucks.
NASCAR driver Kevin Harvick delivered the restored Corvette ó repainted to a brilliant fire engine red ó by following a Salisbury Fire Department rescue engine and a Salisbury police car up the long driveway.
The Islers ó Vic Jr., Tracy and her daughter Ryan-Ann ó stood waiting in the middle of the crowd with “NASCAR Angels” co-hosts Rusty Wallace and Shannon Wiseman.
The Reveal wasn’t exactly spontaneous. It was shot in various takes and retakes, as the final day’s production moved from scene to scene with the Islers. The crowd cheered and applauded at the instructions of a production assistant.
For the takes leading up to the car’s arrival, Wallace prepped Vic Jr. for what was coming.
“I bet you can’t wait to get that Corvette back, can you?” Wallace, a former NASCAR champion, asked him.
Wallace also confided that the car was “pretty hot,” and “I really think you’re going to like it a whole lot.”
He was right.
After hopping out of the Corvette and greeting the family, Harvick told Vic Jr. his own father had been a fireman. Off camera, Harvick also gave the high school sophomore a gas card worth $500.
“When you get old enough to drive, Vic, drive safe,” Harvick urged him.
The first major reaction from an overwhelmed Vic Jr. was that, yes, he could tell people that Kevin Harvick once drove his car.
Tracy Isler took deep breaths to collect herself on several occasions and fought back some tears.
She wore a T-shirt that remembered her husband along with fellow firefighter Justin Monroe, the other firefighter who died in the March 7 fire. She also stayed close on occasion to Capt. Rick Barkley, who suffered burns in the millwork fire and had been close to Isler and Monroe on their hose team that morning.
Around the vehicle, the Islers exchanged hugs with five chief technicians from Goodyear Gemini.
Rick Hunter, the show’s Goodyear Gemini crew chief and technical consultant, guided Vic Jr. through his first close-up inspection of the Corvette.
Hunter reminded him that the car once had plenty of bumps, bruises and even duct tape.
“I love that color,” Vic Jr. said of the outside transformation.
Hunter explained all the work and parts that had gone into the Corvette, which had 82,121 miles when “NASCAR Angels” picked it up. Vic Isler Sr. had put in a rebuilt engine, but the car had an oil pan leak, and the interior was cracked and worn.
Hunter explained that most everything in the car had been replaced, especially the underside.
“You should have no issues whatsoever,” Hunter told Isler. “… In this car, the best part is under the hood.”
At one point, Wallace told the boy his refurbished car probably could go 200 mph now.
“Only on a race track,” Tracy Isler pleaded.
“That’s a good followup there, Mom,” Wallace said. “I like that.”
Vic Jr. said later he doubted that he would drive his car to school and risk parking it in the school parking lot.
The front plate paid honor to his father and Monroe. A personalized license plate in back said “FORSTGMP,” for Vic Jr.’s “Forrest Gump” nickname on his high school cross country team.
Barkley remembers Vic Isler Sr. showing him the Corvette and talking about his plans to restore it and hand it over to Vic Jr. “I told him, ‘Do you want to adopt someone else?’ ” Barkley said.
Barkley said the restored Corvette will serve as a rolling memorial for Vic Sr.
“Words can’t explain what ‘NASCAR Angels’ has done for the family,” Barkley said.
The “NASCAR Angels” episode with the Islers is scheduled to air at 12:30 p.m. June 28 on WSOC-TV, Charlotte.
It also will be rebroadcast on occasions.
For the show’s ending shot, everyone in the crowd ó the firemen, technicians and body repair guys ó gathered around Wallace, Wiseman and the Islers to say a goodbye and shout the mantra that concludes every show:
“Be Car Care Aware.”
Vic Isler Jr. is aware he has one special car to take care of.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or mwineka@ salisburypost.com.