Racer shuts down the stock car and prepares for deployment overseas
BY JILL ERWIN
TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER
Published August 14, 2008

AUGUST 14, 2008
SOUTHSIDE SPEEDWAY
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Family matters to Wayne Cole.

His children's nicknames -- "Sunshine" for daughter Grace, "Beef" for son Landon -- adorn the windshield of his Grand Stock car he races against his brother, Mike Cole, at Southside Speedway on Friday nights.

The Cole family runs Hank's BBQ on Jefferson Davis Highway, and Mike said the whole family comes out along with half the customers to see the brothers race.

But Wayne's time for racing is about to be on indefinite hold.

Wayne, whose day job is protecting Mayor L. Douglas Wilder for the Richmond Police Department, will leave his family and friends behind on Aug. 23 when he heads to Manas Air Base in Kyrgyz Republic for his second tour of duty for the U.S. Air Force.

A 34-year-old Master Sergeant as a reserve member of the Virginia Air National Guard, Wayne will be in a supervisory role over security forces handling base security, convoys and "whatever the mission requires."

Cole is being deployed for a six-month to one-year stint overseas, leaving behind a business, a wife, two children and a lot of responsibility.

Lacking direction, Cole joined the military when he was 19 years old. He had seen Mike, older by four years, serve nearly two years in Operation Desert Storm.

"I told him not to go in the military, not to go in the military, and daggone he had to go in the military," Mike Cole said with a smile. "I am as proud of him as I have ever been anybody."

Wayne said there was no way he could avoid it.

"I always looked up to him," Wayne said of Mike. "I went to visit him one time before the Gulf War and when it broke out he went over to Qatar to do some stuff. That's probably when I made my decision.

"The military really focused what I wanted to do and how I wanted to be successful in life."

To hear those who know him best, Cole has always known what was important. To a person, they talk about his sheer dedication to his family, to being the best father and husband he can be. He and his wife, Jill, met and became high school sweethearts at Monacan High.

They got married 13 years ago this October, and Wayne was well on his way to a military and police career. They had Grace -- "my angel," Wayne says -- and then Wayne was gone for his first deployment when Grace was just 2.

Wayne stayed in touch with people from home through an e-mail campaign, and he became closer friends with Art Warren, a member of the Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors.

Warren and the CCBOS recognized Wayne with a resolution for his time served in the war and "for his dedication to our great nation."

"He genuinely impressed me," Warren said in an e-mail. "I wondered how someone could be so young and at the same time be such an accomplished businessman, police officer, husband, father to little Gracie and a college student."

Now, Grace is 7 and Landon -- "my terror," Wayne said with a laugh -- is 3. This time around is going to be much different not only for Wayne, but for Jill.

"Wayne is so involved in the kids' lives," Jill said. "Everybody loves Wayne at Gracie's cheering because he's the dad who's always there. She, especially, will feel it this time around. We try to explain it, say, 'Daddy's going to war and he's going to fight for our freedom' kind of thing."

As a Master Sergeant, Cole has taken on much more of a leadership role than a combat role. His weeks are filled not only with his full-time duty as a Richmond police officer, but he heads up a group of airmen based at Langley.

Mike says he has every faith in his brother, both because of his calm demeanor and his attention to detail.

"Wayne is, by far, the most laid-back person," Mike said. "Don't get me wrong, he likes to play, but I don't think anybody's ever met him that didn't like him.

"The thing about Wayne is everything has to be meticulous. When I say laid-back, I mean with people. When it comes to things, he's meticulous. Which scares me because funny things happen to good people. I know he's coming back safe, but it's just . . . I've been through this before."

The two brothers are very close, and race each other like that at Southside. The two are generally back in the pack in the Grand Stock race -- Mike in the 63 (the year they opened Hank's) and Wayne in the 65 (the year they opened the second location). Wayne says the two are just out there to relieve stress and have some fun, and he said they donate their winnings to the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

Beyond that, Wayne runs Cole Properties, LLC, a real estate company that controls 22 rental properties. There are two Hank's Barbecue restaurants, but Cole rents out the second.

That business will fall to Jill now that her husband is leaving.

"She is my rock when it comes to that," Wayne said. "She's taking over and thank gosh I have her."

Says Jill: "It's frustrating for me. He's going to be beyond horribly missed for selfish reasons on my part. He is so hands-on with the kids. It's hard to think of doing all this without him. He's just all-around wonderful."