Check out the stories of four Northrop Grumman athletes pushing the boundaries of their sport.
Connection at the Racetrack
By Steve Lamb
It’s an unlikely friendship — one person is racing around corners, seeking the coveted checkered flag; the other is capturing these high-speed pursuits frame-by-frame. Living more than 2,400 miles apart, there was little chance that the two would ever meet, but connections between careers and cars brought them together at the racetrack.
Behind the Wheel
In 2021, Dennis Neel was working at Northrop Grumman as an operating unit director in Woodland Hills, California. Outside of work, he was getting serious about road racing. As a member of the Round 3 Racing (R3R) team, which competes at tracks known for hairpin twists and turns, he drove in 12- and 24-hour racing competitions — showing up regularly in the winner’s circle. His success was no surprise, as he had an early start in the sport.
“I've been racing something since I was about 10 years old. It all started when my mom brought a book home from the library about go-karting,” said Dennis.
He convinced his parents to buy him a kart and was racing competitively within months. As he continued to sharpen his driving skills, he competed against up-and-coming stars, including Michael Andretti. His future as a professional racer was coming together when Dennis’ mother encouraged him to also pursue his passion for engineering.
“Race driving has always been my passion, but I knew that wouldn’t be my only career path,” said Dennis.
After earning his mechanical engineering degree, Dennis joined Northrop Grumman, kept on racing, and later brought colleagues into the sport. They started a race team and even worked on building their own car. However, after realizing all that goes into maintaining a competitive team as an owner, Dennis shifted gears, relinquished his ownership and re-focused on driving, joining R3R.
Capturing the Action
Third-generation Northrop Grumman employee Evan O’Hara was working as an aircraft structures mechanic in St. Augustine, Florida, and, in his free time, was rising in the ranks of trackside motorsports photographers. Like Dennis, he had been nurturing a passion for the fast lane.
“My dad is a photographer,” said Evan. “He gave me a hand-me-down camera, and I would go on shoots with him as a kid.”
Time pressures forced Evan to put his camera aside until, driving past a local car show, he decided to shoot few photos. That spur-of-the-moment decision changed Evan’s life, inspiring him to once again capture moments in time through his lens and connecting him with the motorsports network.
“I was hooked from the start. I liked the whole ambiance. The noise, the fans, it just spoke to me,” said Evan, who soon became a regular and — standing at 6’ 7’’ — recognizable figure at the track.
Small World of Racing Circles
Dennis and Evan’s paths crossed when Evan was hired to document the 2022 R3R season.
Unaware they worked for the same company, they began talking and got to know each other, discovering they had a lot in common. Not only did they both work for Northrop Grumman, but they were both contributing to the success of the same program, the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye.
“This is truly one of those ‘small world’ stories. The racing world is small and the defense world is small,” said Dennis, who today works at Northrop Grumman’s Rolling Meadows, Illinois, site as the director of Survivability Development Programs. “It was surprising to meet someone outside of work who I could have easily met in a work meeting, being that we contribute to the same product.”
A shared enthusiasm for motorsports brought Dennis and Evan together, but the fact that both work on teams with flexible work schedules made it possible. It can be challenging to find the balance between work, family and racing, said Dennis.
“I would never have had an opportunity like this without a flexible work schedule and supportive team,” said Evan. “I have friends who say, ‘you have the best job working around airplanes and yet still have three-day race weekends."
Photos courtesy of Evan O’Hara
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