Feature Story

Making A Difference

(September 30, 2001)- - When Rob Quillen took a flight from Denver, Colorado to Newark, New Jersey on September 10, he had no idea that it would be the most memorable flight of his life. He sat next to Captain Jason Dahl who was piloting a Newark to San Francisco flight the next day. Dahl's plane was hijacked by terrorists and crashed in Pennsylvania. Quillen remembered his conversation with Dahl from the night before which began when Dahl noticed his Jeff Gordon shirt. They had discussed their families, NASCAR, Jeff Gordon, and Kansas City. He felt he had a purpose to make it happen-- and he did. Thanks to Rob for allowing me to use his letter on the site.

By Rob Quillen

My chance encounter with Capt. Jason Dahl started on September 10th in Denver, Colorado. Jason and I sat next to each other on a flight out to Newark, New Jersey. Through the 4 hour flight Jason and I spoke about several things-- life, hope, dreams, family, and our love of NASCAR racing and Jeff Gordon.

Jason told me that his 15 year old son recently discovered that he has epilepsy. Jason asked his son, Matt, if there was one thing that he wanted to do in life, what would it be. Matt told his Dad that he wanted to go to a NASCAR race, and get a chance to meet Jeff Gordon someday. Oddly enough, I was hosting a customer appreciation event at the new Kansas Speedway on September 29th and 30th. I had a couple of extra tickets, and offered them to Jason and Matt. They accepted the invitation, we agreed to talk the next week about details of when they were coming out, where they would stay, etc.

The next day, the attacks on America changed everybody, forever. On a personal note, I was very afraid for my own life, for I was 4 miles from the trade centers. The panic and fear of not being able to reach out and call home to let everyone know that you are ok is a feeling I will never forget. I wanted to hold my wife and 2 kids so bad. I cried thinking that I would never get to kiss any of them good night again.

Once I worked past those fears and made contact, my thoughts quickly turned to my new pilot friend, and how I know I lost my new friend, I cried again- at first out of my own self pity- but then for his family, and his 15 year old son Matt. It was not until 2 days later that I received official notification that Capt. Jason Dahl was the pilot of United Airlines Flight 93 that was hijacked and crashed into the field in Pennsylvania. Although it was 2 days later I heard the news, I knew in my heart the first time I heard the flight schedule that my new friend was now in heaven.

Not getting any flights out of New York, I rented a car and drove 27 hours back to Lincoln, Nebraska. During that 27 hours, the only question on my mind was why? Why was I there? Why did I meet Jason that night? Why did I elect to have a 4 hour conversation with this stranger on the plane- something I never do. Almost home, I came to the realization that God put me on that flight that night to have Jason tell me his dreams for Matt. I was put there to hear those dreams, and to make then a reality.

I contacted a friend of mine at NASCAR.com, Marty Smith. He interviewed me, put the interview on NASCAR.com, and it all broke from there. JG Motorsports contacted me, the Jeff Gordon Foundation contacted me, the Kansas Speedway contacted me, NASCAR called me...everyone put there arms around this and made this whole thing happen.

Matt Dahl and his Grandfather were guests of Jeff for the race weekend. Matt was treated very very well by our wonderful NASCAR family, so many people touched him and made him forget the pain that he must still be in, even if for a couple of days.

I have been a Jeff Gordon fan for a large number of years now. I love this man for what he stands for and what he believes in. If there was any way possible for me to love Jeff Gordon anymore than what I did before this all happened, then it happened this past weekend. There are a lot of sides to being a Winston Cup Champion, Jeff proved to the world with weekend, which side is the most important.

Thank you to all of the wonderful people at JG Motorsports, The Jeff Gordon Foundation and Kathy Boyd especially. It has been said that true champions in life surround themselves with winners. This is very true in this case. And to all of the countless Gordon fans that still send me cards, letters, emails and gifts, I thank you all for your support. Jeff has made us all better people in leading us to the hand of the Lord. God Bless us all, and my thoughts and prayers still go out to all of America.

Rob Quillen
Lincoln, Nebraska

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