Given that the Coca-Cola 600 is run annually during Labor Day weekend, it’s no surprise that the pre-race shows tend to have a military theme, or that several of the cars in the field have paint schemes honor soldiers.
This year, however, Charlotte Motor Speedway and the NASCAR Sprint Cup teams have pulled out all the stops in saluting the military.
All four Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolets will run “Honoring Our Soldiers” special paint schemes in the Coca-Cola 600, while future Hendrick driver Kasey Kahne will sport a Budweiser/USO camouflage scheme on his No. 9 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford. The No. 00 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota of David Reutimann will honor the Armed Forces Foundation and branches of the armed services will be primary sponsors — The U.S. Army on Ryan Newman’s No. 39 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet, and the U.S. Air Force on Elliott Sadler’s No. 19 RPM Ford.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz will be a guest of the No. 19 team this weekend. Schwartz is the senior uniformed Air Force officer responsible for the organization, training and equipping of 680,000 active-duty, Guard, Reserve and civilian forces serving in the United States and overseas.
In terms of the pre-race show for the Coca-Cola 600, it promises to be spectacular.
• 4-4:40 p.m. — A procession of military vehicles will take a parade lap around the track, followed by the presentation of the Stonewall Jackson Award to Col. Joe Marm and the Hometown Heroes Award presentation to 1st Sgt. James Jetton and Staff Sgt. Mary Nelms, both from Charlotte. Following the presentation, the 82nd Airborne Division Chorus and the U.S. Army Drill Team will perform.
• 4:40-5:20 p.m. — Video presentations produced by The History Channel will be played on Sprint Vision screens honoring veterans of World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, as well as active military and veterans from modern-day conflicts including Desert Storm, Operation Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.
Following the presentations, a parade of vintage military planes will take to the skies, including a P-51 Mustang owned by Roush Fenway Racing founder and co-owner Jack Roush; a B-17 bomber that played the role of the Memphis Belle in the 1990 movie of the same name; a giant C-47 transport plane; an A1-H Skyraider and a T-28 Trojan. Personnel from Fort Bragg, N.C., will conduct a military demonstration on the frontstretch involving Little Bird helicopters, military vehicles, a Howitzer demonstration and more than 600 troops.
Medal of Honor recipients Robert Maxwell (World War II), Ronald Rosser (Korea) and Charles Hagemeister (Vietnam) will be recognized on the pre-race stage. A tribute to honor the families of fallen soldiers from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro, N.C., including Capt. Thomas "Lag" Gramith and Capt. Mark "Pit Bull" McDowell, who hailed from Charlotte, will follow.
• 5:20-5:45 p.m. — A host of VIPs will grace the pre-race stage including Honorary Race Director Eric Cantor, Virginia Congressman; Honorary Starter Joe Hackney, North Carolina House Speaker; cast members from "The A-Team," including Jessica Biel; several executives from Coca-Cola, and John Schnatter, founder of Papa John's. Driver introductions for the Coca-Cola 600 will follow.
• 5:45-6;10 p.m. — The U.S. Army parachute team The Golden Knights will perform a jump over the speedway. Dr. James Dobson, founder of the non-profit group Focus on the Family and host of the radio program "Family Talk," will give the invocation. Purple Heart recipient, Charlotte native, opera singer and NASCAR fan Cpl. John Hyland will sing the national anthem. Cast members from "The A-Team"' will deliver the green flag. The command to fire engines will be given by Grand Marshal John Faulkenbury, North Carolina United Service Organizations President and the families of Sgt. James Dickens (U.S. Marine Corps); Staff Sgt. Michael Foley (U.S. Army) and Staff Sgt. Dustin Barnes (U.S. Air Force).
In addition, the Presentation of Colors will be performed by the U.S. All Army Color Guard and a bagpipe performance of "Amazing Grace" will be given by the Charlotte Fire Department Pipes and Drums. A 21-gun salute and "Taps" will be performed by soldiers stationed at Fort Bragg. During the national anthem, 100 family members of service men and women from Fort Bragg will unfurl a large American flag shaped like the United States on the frontstretch grass. The final fly-over before the start of the Coca-Cola 600 will include four F-15 Eagles flown by pilots from the 333rd Fighter Squadron at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.