CONCORD, N.C. — For many, Memorial Day weekend is a holiday spent with family and friends, highlighted by cookouts, trips to the beach and lighthearted fun. But for those who have lost loved ones in the service of our country, it is both a time of somber reflection and a celebration of their lives.
NASCAR has an established tradition of honoring these fallen ones in the days leading up to the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway and this year is no exception.
For the second straight year, the “600 Miles of Remembrance” will pay tribute to those who died defending the United States. The driver’s names that normally appear on the windshield of each race car will be replaced with the names of fallen soldiers. Many of these names were chosen by the teams because of a special connection and each has a unique story. Some of the drivers took a moment to speak about the soldiers represented on their cars.
Ryan Blaney emphasized the importance of the military, saying, “Military does so much for our sport. They’re the reason we can race and be in NASCAR, and that it’s even possible. We have a huge military program at the race tracks each weekend and this just adds to that. We make the 600 really special which is great. It’s so cool that we can have them on our windshield and honor them the best we can that way. I am honored to have Cherone L. Gunn and to represent him. We will have two of his family members there, so hopefully we can show them a memorable time, and show them some of our world. He’s from Norfolk Virginia, which is close to where the Wood Brothers shop is in Stuart. It’s really neat what NASCAR does allowing us to honor the fallen soldiers.”
Austin Dillon said that these soldiers are his heroes. He selected the name to be displayed on his car by reaching “out to some of the guys in the NAVY and some of my friends in the SEALS. I asked them if there was anyone they’d like me to represent in Charlotte, and they all came up with a name and that was Mark Carter, “The Badger”. It’s very special to be carrying on someone’s legacy. Especially someone that gave their name for our freedom and to allow us to be Americans that fight out there on Sunday for a race. It’s very special to me, I even went out with my guys and we did a workout after Mark Carter which was really special to do. It was special to do a workout that was named after him. It was one of the toughest workouts I’ve ever done. So hopefully I can be as tough as him on Sunday. My heroes are soldiers and those guys fighting for our freedom.”
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s car will feature someone who was a childhood friend of JackRoush.
“Charlotte always does a great job with remembering the veterans and military that gave the ultimate sacrifice for our country,” Stenhouse said. “I think our sponsor Fastenal does a great job with it as well and is something that’s very important to them, too. Whether it be hiring the heroes or remembering the ones that gave everything. For us, that week, we’re going to have Jim Woolard on our car, which was one of Jack’s childhood friends growing up. He grew up two doors down from Jack. He died in Vietnam in the Army when he was only 20-years-old. It’ll be a special weekend for us, especially with Jack being our owner. He will want to watch that car run really well. We are going to give it everything we got. It’s very humbling watching the reenactments on pit road before the races. I think that’s one of the special moments everyone comes to see at the Coca-Cola 600.”
For David Ragan, it’s also a way to honor family members that have served.
“Memorial Day is an important day for our entire nation, but certainly for our industry. The Coca-Cola 600 has a lot of history and heritage in our sport. Memorial Day is an important day in our country to honor all of our soldiers that lost their lives fighting for our country. I have had a couple of grandfathers and uncles that served in our nation’s military, so it’s a certainly an important day in my family as well to pay tribute for those that served. One of my favorite memories about Memorial Day Weekend is all of the soldiers and pre-race festivities at Charlotte Motor Speedway over the years. It’s always been a lot of fun.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is proud of NASCAR’s continued commitment to the military and said, “NASCAR has always had a close relationship with the military of our country, and honors a family weekly who has lost someone. We always have service men and women out to the track as guests. That’s always been an important addition to the weekend. I like that we ramp it up for this particular weekend. It’ll be great to meet Lance Corporal Aaron Reed’s family and the other members of his squad. That’ll be an experience that I probably won’t forget – it will be pretty weighted. I’m looking forward to it.”
The “600 Miles of Remembrance” is only a small part of planned activities that will span the entire weekend of events to show support for the military as part of a program called, NASCAR: An American Salute.
You can see a gallery of all the fallen soldiers that will appear on the Sprint Cup Series cars during Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 by visiting www.NASCAR.com/salute.