Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 is the longest race on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule, but its date also has special meaning: it is held the day before Memorial Day, a federal holiday honoring American servicemen and women who died on duty. To commemorate the day, the NASCAR Salutes program – officially named the NASCAR Salutes Refreshed by Coca-Cola – organized various military-related activities for fans, veterans, and drivers, while teams have unveiled patriotic paint schemes.
“This weekend is important to the Coca-Cola system,” Coca-Cola Company Vice President, Marketing Assets and Activation, John Mount stated. “We are thrilled to partner with NASCAR and the NASCAR Salutes platform in which we will honor our Heroes, get troops to the track and remember our fallen military members.”
During the week, drivers Kurt Busch and Parker Kligerman visited Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. The two drivers used a virtual reality free-fall simulator to experience the feeling of being paratroopers, followed by outdoor field training.
“There are a lot of times in the military where you volunteer for something you don’t even know what you’re getting into,” Busch said while talking to Marines on the base. “But you do it because it comes from within your heart. To be able to just say thank you is why I’m here.”
Patriotic schemes and tributes
A tradition dating back to 2015, the 40 cars entered for the 600 will adorn the names of fallen servicemen on the windshield. Furthermore, the pace cars, grand marshal and track vehicles will also feature the names. The two pace cars will have Air Force Captain Mark Weber and Marine Corps Staff Sergeant (Sgt.) Joshua M. Snowden; the four grand marshal vehicles will have Marines in Staff Sgt. William “Billy” Kundrat, Sgt. Dietrich Schmieman, Sgt. Talon Leach, and Sgt. Chad Elliott Jenson; the five track trucks will have Marine Corporal (Cpl.) Daniel Baldassare, Army Specialist (Spc.) Joshua Scott Piotrowski, Air Force Senior Airman Bryce K. Powers, Navy Lieutenant (Lt.) J. Wesley Van Dorn, and Coast Guard Damage Controlman 3rd Class Nathan Bruckenthal. The NASCAR Xfinity Series race on Saturday will also have special windshield banners.
For certain drivers, the veteran listed has a connection to them or their team: for example, Brad Keselowski‘s car will feature the name of Gunnery Sergeant Chris Eckard, a childhood friend of Keselowski’s chassis fabricator Casey Mahoney; Eckward was killed in action while in Afghanistan in 2010.
“This program has existed here for a number of years in NASCAR for the Coke 600 where we get to honor the fallen soldiers,” Keselowski commented. Keselowski, whose family has military ties, regularly celebrates wins with the American flag and has said that he would have enlisted had a career in racing not panned out. “But it means more to us and it just hits a little bit harder when there’s a personal connection and the personal connection inside Team Penske with family and friends runs deep for that family.”
Multiple drivers have also switched their paint schemes to patriotic themes for the 600. Keselowski, Austin Dillon, Matt Kenseth, Chase Elliott, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kyle Busch, William Byron, Ryan Newman, Kyle Larson, Jimmie Johnson, Martin Truex Jr., and Alex Bowman will all race liveries painted with patterns of the American flag or in red, white, and blue. Kasey Kahne and Corey LaJoie‘s cars are both military-themed, while Jeffrey Earnhardt‘s #55 will feature the names of 617 fallen veterans on the hood. In the Xfinity Series, Ryan Reed will also drive a red, white, and blue scheme.
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600 Miles of Remembrance
During the week, NASCAR partnered with Honor and Remember, Inc. to place American flags throughout the garage, while Goodyear redesigned its Eagle tires, replacing the word with “Support Our Troops”. To wrap up the weekend, NASCAR Salutes’ race day will be dubbed the “600 Miles of Remembrance”. The fifth year of the program’s promotion, Coca-Cola will bring in 5,000 veterans to watch the race. Coca-Cola will also introduce the Coca-Cola Kitchen to allow servicemen attending to enjoy food.
Prior to the 2017 race, the traditional invocation, national anthem, and flyover were joined by a performance of “Amazing Grace” and a 21-gun salute. Fans were given “Rise to Honor” cards to write the names of veterans close to them, which were raised during pace laps. The same gestures will likely continue for 2018.
During the pre-race show, broadcaster Fox will air the names of every veteran who was killed in the last year as part of its Fox Sports Remembers segment. A similar tribute show will also be held earlier in the day on SiriusXM radio.
The race will take place on Sunday afternoon, capping off one of the greatest days in racing with Formula One‘s Monaco Grand Prix and the Verizon IndyCar Series‘ Indianapolis 500 preceding the 600. Kyle Busch will start on the pole.