As Americans remember and mourn our fallen heroes this Memorial Day weekend, NASCAR nation will honor and recognize them alongside hundreds of current service members at one of the sport's biggest races of the year. The "600 Miles of Remembrance" is much more than just a race.
Since 2018, all of the Defense Department's service branches have joined with NASCAR to honor the U.S. military during the Coca-Cola 600 race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina. Ahead of the race, several drivers also spend time at military bases to get to know what service is really like through the speedway's Mission 600 campaign.
These partnerships connect Americans to the dedicated men and women who serve in the U.S. military and strengthen DOD's relationships with local communities.
This year will be no different, with plenty of military-oriented activities happening at the speedway during the lead-up to the race. Attendees can visit the Fan Zone outside the track and on the inside ballfield – the track's grassy infield – to take part in meet-and-greets with service members, see our talented military musicians perform and watch various drill team demonstrations.
On Friday, the U.S. Army Drill Team and the Air Force Heritage of America Band will perform for fans. Students from local schools and Department of Defense Education Activity schools will also get a chance to check out more than 40 interactive exhibits during the STEAM Expo, which highlights careers in science, technology, engineering, art and math. On Saturday, the folksy Six String Soldiers, a component of the U.S. Army Field Band, will be performing at the Fan Zone. The Marine Silent Drill Platoon will also perform on Saturday.
Sunday — race day — will be chock-full of military moments. On the ballfield, several military vehicles will be on display and service members will be lining up on the logos painted onto the field – including one for the #WhyWeServe campaign — to chat with fans who want to see the equipment up close. The Air Force Heritage of America Band and the U.S. Navy Silent Drill Team will also perform.
About an hour before the race starts, more than 50 new enlistees from all the military services will participate in a joint oath of enlistment ceremony.
Soldiers from Fort Bragg's 2-319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment will shoot off an M119A3 105 mm howitzer right before the Army 82nd Airborne Division's All-American Chorus performs God Bless America, America the Beautiful and Carolina on my Mind. Then, several service members will introduce and escort the 36 drivers to their cars, all of which will pay tribute to fallen service members by having the names of the fallen prominently displayed on their windshields. The drivers will also pay tribute to Gold Star Families, who will be in attendance.
An Army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter will drop several soldiers onto the ballfield before the Joint Armed Forces Color Guard takes the field. An Army chaplain will perform the invocation, then the Navy Ceremonial Guard Rifle Team will execute a small-arms volley before the U.S. Coast Guard Band performs Taps. Next, Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Elizabeth Marino will sing the National Anthem with the backing of the 2nd Aircraft Marine Corps Band.
Right before the race kicks off, T-38 Talons from the Air Force's 1st Fighter Wing will present a flyover to amp the fans up.
Mid-race, all the drivers will take a caution break, where their cars will return to Pit Road. In a moment unlike one seen anywhere else in American sports, drivers will turn off their engines and observe a moment of silence for our country's fallen heroes.
Ahead of this weekend's race, a few NASCAR drivers experienced military life firsthand as part of Charlotte Motor Speedway's military appreciation program, Mission 600. Driver Joey Logano visited the USS Nitze at Naval Station Norfolk in early May. He worked through real-world situations that sailors face in the ship's simulation room, and he even served its sailors some chow.
In April, Austin Dillon and members of his pit crew visited soldiers at Fort Bragg, which will be redesignated Fort Liberty on June 2.
Driver Daniel Suarez virtually visited members of Area Support Group Jordan, an active component organization that works to increase operability with Jordanian troops. And Aric Almirola spent some time at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, getting to know more about the Marines of the 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion.
Earlier this month, famed driver Denny Hamlin and others in the industry visited the Pentagon, talked with service members and laid a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery's Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen H. Hicks talked with the Pentagon visitors about the importance of the NASCAR/DOD partnership. As this year marks the 50th anniversary of the all-volunteer force, she noted that the NASCAR race community is important to keeping the military's legacy and future alive.
"You are instrumental in bringing stories of service members and their families to the forefront and our mission to millions of people. That's important for increasing understanding of what we do and the sacrifices that service members and military families make to ensure our nation's security," Hicks told the visitors. "Your amplification also reaches a huge potential pool of talent who may go on to serve their country and defend the nation."
The Coca-Cola 600, the longest on NASCAR's schedule at 600 miles, has been run since 1960. It was the first race to be held at Charlotte Motor Speedway.